San Diego State right-hander Bubba Derby was leading the Mountain West in strikeouts by a very wide margin. With 89 in just 63 innings, he had 34 more than any other pitcher as well as an opponent’s batting average of .234 and a solid 3.57 ERA.
But none of that seemed to bother Fresno State, as the Bulldogs put together some high-quality at-bats against Derby on Friday before finally taking the first of a three-game series 5-4 when Kevin Viers ripped a home run over the wall in right-center leading off the bottom of the 10th against C.J. Saylor.
Saylor, who had come on with two outs in the seventh inning at at Beiden Field, had struck out six of the first eight batters he faced.
“Watching all those at-bats, you just kind of notice he starts getting into a pattern where he would throw his cutter most of the pitches,” said Viers, who was on base three times with two hits and a walk in five plate appearances. “You see the cutter and you take it and you just have to look fastball the whole time, just look fastball because he’s going to throw it to you eventually and that’s just what happened.”
With the blast by Viers, Fresno State extended its winning streak to three games as well as a strong run at the plate that started with a 6-5 victory at Air Force and an 8-0 win at Sacramento State. Against Derby the Bulldogs were able to extend at-bats when down in the count, and collect hits or RBIs when he had a chance to pad that impressive strikeout total.
It started in the first inning with Taylor Tempel, who fouled off a 2-2 pitch, two more at 3-2, and ended up lacing a double to right-center on the ninth pitch he saw from Derby. Five batters later, including walks to Austin Guibor and Manny Argomaniz, freshman Kenny Corey drove a 1-2 pitch into center to give the Bulldogs a 2-0 lead.
Korby Batesole led off the second by drilling the first pitch he saw over the wall in right-center, his first career home run.
And the Bulldogs continued to make Derby work through some tough at-bats — Brody Russell fouled off a pitch at 2-2 and took a close one to get to 3-2 before ripping a double in the second; Ryan Dobson fought off a tough 2-2 pitch in the third, getting enough of it to send it deep enough into center to drive in Viers with a sacrifice fly; Corey had a second hit against Derby on a 1-2 pitch, that in the third.
“You have to know when you’re going to face Bubba that you better show up from the first pitch to the last one and those two-strike at-bats, those were some good battles and he beat us on some of them, too,” coach Mike Batesole said.
“But that’s what you have to do with him, You can’t give an inch. All we talked about (before the game) is we have to fight it out. It’s going to be a fight and hopefully (Fresno State starter Jake Shull) would match him and surely he did. But you just can’t give away a pitch to him. He’s just a terrific pitcher.”
The Bulldogs (21-21, 11-8) chased Derby with one out in the sixth and 124 pitches in the book, after Corey drew a walk after being down 1-2.
They stalled a bit there against the bullpen of the Aztecs (27-16,14-8). But the Bulldogs got some strong work out of the bullpen by Garrett Mundell in the ninth and 10th, five of his six outs coming by strikeout, and Viers won it with one swing.
“Everyone looks more comfortable at the plate,” Viers said. “Even though it’s late in the season and we should be completely comfortable, it’s really nice to see everyone relax and know what they’re going to do.”