Vernia Powers Zags into Title Game at WCC Champs
May 26, 2017
STOCKTON, Calif.--A host of scouts came out to Friday's WCC Championships game between top-seeded Gonzaga and second-seed Loyola Marymount to see LMU starter Cory Abbott Friday afternoon, but it was Gonzaga starter Justin Vernia who stole the show as he powered the Zags to a 3-1 win and a berth in the tournament title game.
Vernia dazzled Friday, tossing 6.2 scoreless innings and allowing just three hits. The senior struck out five batters and walked just one - that coming in the first inning - while allowing only three hits. The first hit came in the third inning - a blooper into shallow left from Nick Sogard - but he got out of it with strong backing by his defense. Second baseman Justin Jacobs collected a slow grounder off the bat of Phil Caulfield and glove-flipped it to shortstop Gunnar Schubert, covering the bag at second. Schubert then completed the 4-6-3 double play with a strike to Jake Vieth at first to end the frame.
Abbott matched Vernia by going scoreless through three innings, but the Bulldogs changed that in the top of the fourth. The first two Zag hitters - Troy Johnston and Tyler Frost - drew walks, and then Justin Jacobs was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Third baseman Jeff Bohling then lifted a fly ball to right, allowing Johnston to score on the sacrifice. Abbott ended the frame with a fielder's choice and a strikeout, however, escaping further damage.
In the bottom of the fourth, Vernia found a grove. The double play to end the third kicked off a stretch of 12 consecutive batters retired that lasted until two down in the seventh inning. At that point, LMU designated hitter Steven Chavez knuckled a single into right field. Brandon Shearer followed up with a knock to left, and that was it for Vernia, who exited the game in place of Wyatt Mills. The Zag closer then induced an inning-ending ground ball to end the threat.
The Zags picked up a huge pair of runs in the top of the eighth, chasing Abbott from the game in the process. Johnston led off with a single to right center, and then Frost followed up with the dagger, ripping a triple down the right field line and allowing the freshman to score. The Lions then turned to reliever Braydon Salzman, but Jacobs greeted the freshman with a fly ball to left field, allowing Frost to score and push Gonzaga's lead to 3-0.
Loyola Marymount jumped on the board in the eighth as Billy Wilson led off with a solo home run to right, but Mills clamped down again. The Spokane native struck out the final two batters in the eighth and sat down the side in ninth to confirm the win and a spot in the WCC Championship game.
Vernia picked up the win, advancing to 7-3 on the year. Mills earned his 12th save of the year while tossing 2.1 innings, allowing just one run on one hit and striking out two.
Associate head coach Danny Evans
Senior right-hander Justin Vernia
The Zags (33-18) will now have two opportunities at claiming the WCC Championship and the conference's automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament. The title game will begin at 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, May 27, and the if-necessary game will begin at 7:00 p.m., once again at Banner Island Ballpark in Stockton, Calif.
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