LOS ANGELES—The Los Angeles Regional opener showcased two of the nation's premier sluggers: sophomore third basemen D.J. Peterson of New Mexico and Kris Bryant of San Diego.
Both righthanded mashers are among the 30 semifinalists for the Golden Spikes Award, and both showed why Friday, going a combined 7-for-8. But Peterson (4-for4) had the bigger game, blasting a mammoth two-run homer in the ninth inning to punctuate third-seeded New Mexico's 4-0 win.
"The first pitch, my coach told me, 'Swing for it. Let me see what you got,' " Peterson said of his final at-bat. "So I swung and missed. I got to two strikes, and to be honest I was just trying to punch something through the right side, but it was in, and I just stayed inside and hit it good enough to let it get out."
USD coach Rich Hill describes Peterson succinctly and effectively: "D.J. Peterson is one of the primetime players in college baseball."
Peterson is now hitting .427/.496/.751 with 17 homers and 78 RBIs. He is a fearsome presence in the heart of one of the nation's best lineups, but he is quick to spread the credit around to his teammates.
His teammates sure deserved their share of credit Friday. The Toreros also have a potent offense, but low-three-quarters righty Austin House shut them down for seven scoreless innings, scattering six hits and two walks while striking out five. House got 10 groundball outs thanks to his lively mid-80s sinker and darting changeup, and New Mexico's solid infield played errorless defense behind him.
But House left with two on and no outs in the eighth, when the lead was still just 2-0. After a wild pitch, sidewinder Hobie McClain faced a second-and-third jam with the dangerous Bryant at the plate. Bryant had singled in his first two at-bats and laced a double into the opposite-field gap in the sixth, but this time he was fooled by an 80 mph slider in on his hands.
"He was kind of tough to pick up," Bryant said. "He had that low-three-quarters arm angle with a good sweeping slider. I felt like I got a couple good swings off and just barely missed it. That's baseball—sometimes you don't square it up."
McClain got cleanup man Connor Joe to ground out to Peterson (who boxed it but recovered in time to get the out at first and hold the runners), then struck out Andrew Daniel to end the threat.
Peterson put the game out of reach in the next inning. The stars shined bright on Friday, putting on a nice show in a postseason setting. But New Mexico's shined just a bit brighter—as they have often during their 10-game winning streak.
"That's as good as it gets. San Diego—wow. They play the game absolutely right, they pitch right, they competed," Lobos coach Ray Birmingham said. "Our team's playing well, they're all doing it, all chipping in."
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