Down 2-0 with a man on second base, Zack Turner — USF’s home run leader — managed to work the count full.
With one out in the ninth inning of the West Coast Conference championship game, Turner eyed the 12th pitch of a grueling at-bat.
He swung and missed. And one out later, the Dons lost the conference title.
“It’s just when we need it the most, I tend to put a lot of pressure on myself,” Turner said. “It’s not that I don’t have confidence in my other teammates, but when you’re in a situation to go ahead or win a game and you don’t get it done, I don’t take it as lightly as some other guys.”
Today, Turner, along with his teammates, will have a chance for atonement.
Despite Saturday’s loss to San Diego, USF (34-22) managed only its third postseason appearance in school history and will oppose Rice (41-17) today in the Eugene Regional of the NCAA baseball championships.
“It’s everything for us,” Turner said of the at-large tourney invitation. “We’ve just worked so hard to get to this point, but we’re far from done. So we’re gonna get to work on Friday.”
Accompanying USF and Rice in the regional are the tournament’s overall No. 8 seed Oregon (45-14) and tourney newcomer South Dakota State (35-22). But with Oregon and Rice being the favorites to advance, Turner seems unmoved.
“There’s 64 teams left in the country right now, and I think they’re all pretty good,” he said. “We’re in there because I think we’re truly one of the better teams in the country.”
And without the right-handed slugger from nearby San Carlos, the Dons wouldn’t be in Eugene. A former star catcher at Serra High School in San Mateo, the junior first baseman lead his team in hits, RBIs and home runs this season.
But if there’s anything that the power hitter can lay off of, it’s praise.
“My job in the four-spot is to try to get as many runs in as I can, no matter how it happens. I haven’t been able to do that all year without the support of my teammates,” he said, singling out Justin Maffei, Jason Mahood and Bradley Zimmer, the latter whom he calls the “most talented” player he’s ever shared the diamond with. “I’d take a bullet for ’em.”
And coaches, past and present, aren’t exempt. After nursing a torn right rotator cuff in 2011, Turner credits Cañada College coach Tony Lucca for helping him make the transition to first base, and praises USF skipper Nino Giarratano for his success at the plate.
“I think I wouldn’t be the hitter I am today without his help,” Turner said.
But the 22-year-old’s love of the game isn’t exclusive. Last September, Turner proposed to his long-time girlfriend Hailey Austin. She accepted.
“She’s everything to me, and that’s why I asked the question, because I can’t really imagine going on with anything — with baseball, with life — without her,” he said.