SANTA CLARA, Calif. – On Senior Day in a must-win game, Santa Clara baseball topped Saint Mary's by a final of 7-6 to qualify for the West Coast Conference Baseball Championship. Junior first baseman T.J. Braff hit a two-out, RBI single in the ninth to score senior center fielder Greg Harisis from second base and give the Broncos their second straight win to claim the series.
Santa Clara overcame an early 5-1 deficit to win in walkoff fashion and finish the regular season with five straight WCC series victories.
"You can't script a better Senior Day than that, a day filled with memories that will last a lifetime," head coach Dan O'Brien said. "And after what these guys have been through, I can't think of a group who deserves the postseason as much as these seniors do. They've been model Broncos, tireless workers, great leaders, and have overcome so much. I'm just so proud of them."
Jacob Steffens (2-4, 3.77) started for Santa Clara and picked up a no-decision in 6.1 innings. Steffens allowed six runs (five earned) on nine hits with no walks five strikeouts for the Broncos (26-28, 16-11 WCC). Reece Karalus (W, 6-2, 2.30) got the win in 2.2 innings out of the bullpen, allowing only one hit with one strikeout. Senior left fielder Casey Munoz was 3-for-5 with two doubles and three RBIs to lead the offense. Sophomore shortstop Jose Vizcaino, Jr. was 2-for-4 with a solo home run, two runs scored, and two RBIs while Braff was 1-for-4 with two RBIs and the game-winning hit.
"We are not a postseason team without T.J. Braff," O'Brien said. "He's been coming through for this ballclub time and time again for six solid weeks now. I can't tell you how happy I am for him considering the adversity he's faced in his college career. He deserved every bit of his success and the memory of that walkoff knock to send us into the postseason."
Jacob Valdez (1-4, 3.42) started for Saint Mary's and picked up a no-decision in 4.2 innings for the Gaels (16-39, 8-19 WCC). Valdez allowed six runs on five hits with two walks and three strikeouts. Anthony Gonsolin (L, 2-6, 4.32) got the loss in 3.1 innings out of the bullpen.
Vizcaino, Jr. blasted a one-out home run to left in the bottom of the first to give the Broncos the early lead.
Gaels sophomore designated hitter Ian McLoughlin and junior center fielder DonAndre Clark led off the top of the third with back-to-back singles. Gonsolin laid a bunt down the third base side and Steffens threw wide of freshman third baseman Max Kuhns to allow the game-tying run to score. Junior first baseman Collin Ferguson hit a sac fly to center that gave Saint Mary's the 2-1 lead. Freshman catcher Nate Nolan brought in the third run of the inning with a single up the middle.
The Gaels got the offense going right away in the fourth when sophomore third baseman Anthony Villa led off with a single up the middle and came in to score on a triple to center by sophomore left fielder Michael Valentin, Jr. An error put runners at the corners with still no outs and McLoughlin made it 5-1 with a sac fly.
With one down in the home half of the fourth, freshman catcher Stevie Berman doubled to right center and Munoz hit an infield single to short to put runners on the corners. Braff hit a foul ball to right that went for a sacrifice fly and got Santa Clara within three runs at 5-2.
Senior second baseman Zach Looney doubled and sophomore right fielder Kert Woods drew a four-pitch walk with one out in the bottom of the fifth to set the table for the top of the order. After a strikeout, Vizcaino, Jr. singled just over the head of senior shortstop Ricky Boas for an RBI. A walk to Berman loaded the bases and Saint Mary's brought sophomore and Friday night winning pitcher David Dellaserra in to pitch. Munoz came up with a bases-clearing double to left to put the Broncos back on top 6-5.
"It says a lot about our team that we're coming back from these big deficits," Braff said. "People don't stop when they get at-bats, just taking it one batter at a time and we've been able to come back. Going into the playoffs that might happen to us, and we know that even when we're down, we always still have a chance."
Sophomore Connor Hornsby, who came into the game as a defensive replacement, singled to right with one out in the seventh and moved to second on a wild pitch. Clark followed with a single to center that senior center fielder Greg Harisis bobbled, allowing Hornsby to round third and score. Karalus came in out of the bullpen and got the next two outs to end the inning with the game tied at 6-6.
Senior designated hitter Quinton Perry reached on an error to lead off the bottom of the eighth on a ground ball through the legs of Boas at shortstop. Kuhns laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt to get the go-ahead run into scoring position. Santa Clara got runners on the corners when Perry advanced to third on a wild pitch and Looney walked on a 3-2 breaking ball that missed high from Gonsolin. The Broncos failed on a suicide squeeze attempt that had Perry tagged out in a rundown and Looney make his way from first to third, and a line out to center ended the inning.
Harisis chopped the first pitch of the bottom of the ninth back up the middle for a single. Vizcaino, Jr. got down a sac bunt to put the winning run in scoring position and the Gaels answered by intentionally walking Berman. Saint Mary's Friday night starter and senior Ryan Brockett entered the game to pitch and got the second out of the inning with a fly ball to left center. Braff came through with the RBI walkoff single to left that scored Harisis and clinched the Broncos a spot in the WCC Baseball Championship.
"On the first pitch, he threw a changeup and I was a little out in front of it," Braff said. "I just reminded myself to stay back and trust my hands. It was big for the team, Harry has good speed at second so I knew if I could just hit the ball hard, he'd have a chance to score."
The Broncos finish 2014 West Coast Conference play tied for fourth place with San Diego, and finished ahead of the Toreros by way of a 3-0 head-to-head record. They face the regular season champion Pepperdine Waves in the first game of the WCC Baseball Championship Thu., May 22 at 3 p.m. at Banner Island Ballpark in Stockton, Calif.
"I've played three years with the seniors now and I just wanted to send them off right," Braff said. "We'll see what we can do in the postseason."
"This ballclub never stops battling," O'Brien said. "That's the bottom line, they never quit. That's what makes them special."
Game Notes: Attendance was 483 … first pitch was at 1:06 … game time was 2:48 … Santa Clara honored its 10 seniors before the game … since dropping two of three at Gonzaga April 11-13, Santa Clara has won five straight WCC series.