SAN DIEGO–Brian Matusz, Josh Romanski and A.J. Griffin get a lot of attention–and deservedly so–but it’s easy to forget about San Diego senior righthander Matt Couch, who picked up his 23rd career win today against No. 5 Missouri. Couch allowed four runs (just two earned) on six hits and a pair of walks while striking out seven over 7 1/3 innings, keeping things close until the Toreros could cobble together a three-run rally in the sixth to take a 5-4 lead that proved decisive.
"Last night we went over and watched them play at San Diego State, and we had a pretty good game plan," Couch said. "Coach (Eric) Valenzuela called a great game. We kept them off balance early with offspeed pitches, then toward the middle innings and the later part of the game we went fastball in, fastball away, and messed with their heads a little bit. The changeup was working great for me today. I left one up, I think it was in the fifth inning when they scored two, and I was pretty upset about that, but other than that it worked well for me."
He used the changeup and a newly developed cutter–really a modified version of his breaking ball–to get most of his seven strikeouts, and though his fastball topped out at 88, it had good movement. It’s not overpowering stuff, but it’s tough to hit.
"He’s kind of the unsung hero in this thing," USD coach Rich Hill said. "We have poster boys Brian Matusz and Josh Romanski and A.J. Griffin, but Matt’s just done it for four years. He’s just been solid."
Couch is just fine with flying under the radar.
"That’s kind of how I’ve always been," he said. "Having those two guys (Matusz and Romanski), it makes me work a little bit harder to keep up with them. I don’t try to outdo everybody, but there’s some friendly competition between the three of us, and it makes it fun."
Couch was followed by freshman lefthander Sammy Solis, who was strong in relief for the second straight day, striking out one in a perfect inning. He left with one out in the ninth, and highly touted sophomore Matt Thomson made his first appearance of the weekend. Thomson was sidelined in the fall with triceps tendinitis, and Valenzuela told me yesterday he really hasn’t had feel for his secondary stuff since his return. So he just pumped 90-91 mph fastballs at the Tigers, striking out Steve Gray on a heater down and in and allowing a two-out single to right by pinch-hitter Austin Holt. He finally threw a breaking ball against the next batter, T.J. Schieber, on his 13th pitch, and Schieber proceeded to nearly decapitate Thomson with a line drive back to the mound, but Thomson managed to snare it to end the game.
In the all-important sixth-inning rally, the first four San Diego batters reached base against Mizzou starter Rick Zagone. The first two batters walked, then freshman third baseman laced an RBI double down the left-field line, and Logan Gelbrich followed with an RBI single through the left side of the infield that tied the score. After Ryan Allen relieved Zagone (and for the record, Allen topped out at 87 mph, not even sniffing the 96 he was touching last summer in the Jayhawk League), Kevin Hansen laid down a successful safety squeeze to knock in Sanchez with the winning run.
"One of our pitchers, Luke Roniger, was like, ‘That’s Torero ball, guys, that’s Torero ball,’ " Hill said. "That may be our signature this year, and I think it’s going to have to be, just manufacturing runs. It reminds me of the great Fullerton teams, the great Long Beach State teams, that really rely on their pitching and defense, manufacture runs, get a lot of two-out hits, and every once in a while bang one in the gap. And I think that’s going to be us this year."
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