STHS grad battles to go the distance; Aggies qualify for conference tournament by winning final game |

STHS grad battles to go the distance; Aggies qualify for conference tournament by winning final game

Steve Yingling, Tribune Sports Editor

DAVIS, Calif. — The outcome wasn’t what he had in mind Saturday, but Greg Bruso demonstrated the mental toughness and determination that served him well over his four-year pitching career at UC Davis.

The 1998 South Tahoe High graduate, pitching at home for the final time, scattered nine hits in completing his 10th straight game in the Aggies’ 5-2 California Collegiate Athletic Association baseball defeat to UC San Diego.

“In front of all these Tahoe fans, I was hoping to pitch a little bit better,” said Bruso, who saw his collegiate-high nine-game winning streak end. “That’s how it goes sometimes. I gave it a run, and it has to end sometime, I guess.”

On a warm afternoon when Bruso admittedly didn’t have his best stuff, the 6-foot-2 right-hander pitched his way out of jam after jam to keep the Aggies close.

“His job every time he goes out there is to give us a chance to win and he did that today,” said Aggies’ pitching coach Matt Vaughn.

Bruso’s most unnerving test came during a 28-pitch fifth inning as a pair of infield errors threatened to send him to the showers. Aggie shortstop Ryan Coultas put Bruso in a bind by starting the inning with a throwing error. Following a single by Chad Addison, a ground ball hit by Jeff Riddle snuck under Coultas’ glove, allowing one run to score and putting runners on the corners.

The potential big inning was undone as Addison was tagged out by third baseman Matt Kamigawachi after being caught in a pickle between home and third.

Keith Albrecht’s RBI single scored Brett Burton to make the score 5-2 and keep Bruso on the ropes. With runners perched on first and second, Bruso showed savvy by striking out Matt Kennison on five pitches and coaxing David Hawk to fly out to right field.

“You just have to forget about it,” said Bruso of the fielding miscues. “If you let that bother you, it’s going to affect your pitching, too. You’ve got to block that out and just keep on pitching like you were before, and pitch like they’re going to make the plays.”

Despite Bruso’s struggles through the middle innings, 36-year Davis manager Phil Swimley never considered removing his pitcher.

“We know what he can do, and he still was throwing pretty good pitches relative to what we had available,” Swimley said. “It wasn’t his fault he was in the jam. We’ve known from past experiences that he’s not a guy who is going to fold his tent; he stays in there and battles.”

Vaughn and Bruso believe the Tritons benefited by scouting the Aggies during their spare time last weekend.

“They know I like to work fast and they slowed me down,” Bruso said. “They took a while to get in the box. But I take my hat off to them. They swung it well and their pitcher pitched a great game.”

Added Vaughn, “They threw him out of his rhythm a little bit and it wasn’t like it’s been every other week, but it’s pretty hard to expect the effort he’s been giving every week. He’s been outstanding, and he was good enough to win today.”

Bruso breezed through the final two innings, retiring six of the seven men he faced. After striking out Albrecht for the final out in the seventh, he was greeted at top of the dugout steps by appreciate teammates.

After a dramatic seven-run eighth-inning rally in an 8-2 victory in the opener, Bruso was given the task of wrapping up a postseason berth for the Aggies.

“It was nice knowing that we were coming off a win, that always helps,” Bruso said. “But the pressure was still there because there was one more game we still needed to win.”

Early on, it looked as if the day belonged to the CCAA pitcher of the year candidate. Bruso concluded his first inning by striking out the cleanup hitter with a runner on second base.

Enhancing his situation was the RBI single by Coultas in the bottom of the frame.

However, Matt Smith and Kennison roped doubles in the second inning as the Tritons tied the score at 1. Bruso escaped further trouble by striking out Hawk and snaring a line drive hit right back at him.

The Tritons went ahead 2-1 in the third inning on Matt Merrifield’s RBI single.

Tulk pulled the Aggies even in the bottom of the inning with a single that scored Dustin Solderman.

UC San Diego made Bruso work in the fourth inning, forcing 21 pitches. Opening the inning with a groundout and strikeout, the Tritons dug in as Kennison hit a 2-0 pitch in the left-center field gap for a double. Following a walk to Hawk, Keith Hernandez stroked an RBI single for a 3-2 lead. Bruso avoided additional damage by getting a fly out to right.

The Aggies had their chances to score more than two runs. They left two runners on base in the third and fourth innings and the bases loaded in the sixth.

Winning pitcher John Beaven, a senior from Carmichael, Calif., got the Aggies in order in the seventh inning to complete his eight-hitter.

Only three of the Tritons’ runs were earned, and Bruso (9-4) struck out six.

The news, however, got better for Bruso and the Aggies on Sunday as they clinched third place in the conference with a 5-2 do-or-die victory over the Tritons.

In the process, Swimley became the ninth coach in NCAA Division II history to win 900 games.

The Aggies (31-24 overall) will open the double-elimination conference tournament against runner-up Grand Canyon on Thursday at 3 p.m. at Chico State. The loss ended the Tritons’ season a victory shy of the four-team conference tournament.

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