Feb. 16, 2012

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Zim-sanity in San Francisco for Dons' pitcher

By Taylor Gelbrich  @According2Gelby



U-S-F, U-S-F!


Those were the cheers coach Nino Giarratano heard as he merged from the dugout at Jackie Robinson Stadium in Los Angeles. His University of San Francisco squad had just upset No. 12 UCLA 3-0 in UCLA’s regional.


They had just beaten the future No. 1 pick in the MLB Draft in Gerrit Cole. Giarratano emerged to see the small army of 600 gold jerseys and shirts in a sea of powder blue proudly chanting USF. Giarratano and USF weren’t supposed to have this moment. They were the underdogs, but junior right-hander Kyle Zimmer had other plans.


“I felt it in the bullpen,” Zimmer said. “My stuff felt pretty good, but around the second inning I think my stuff started settling in and I felt like my stuff was starting to click.”


Cole’s fastball consistently hits the upper 90s and comes back with a power slider and change-up. He was supposed to dominate the Dons, but it didn’t happen. The 6’4 Zimmer sports a low 90s fastball with a good change-up and curveball. He retired the first 11 batters he faced until he gave up a single. He came right back and retired the next 14.


The game was all but over for Zimmer as he struck out the first two batters in the ninth until the Bruins loaded up the bases.


“I was like, OK, settle back down and make pitches,” said Zimmer “I sort of stepped off, took a deep breath and said there’s absolutely zero chance that any one of these guys are going to cross home plate right now. This is going to end right now.”


Zimmer got his win while throwing a complete game, racking up 11 strikeouts and giving up only four hits. The testament of Zimmer’s dominance was his command. Out of his 115 pitches thrown, 85 were for strikes.


“Everything was working,” catcher Mason Morioka said. “He has a pretty dominant fastball, a great curveball, an above-average change-up and he is starting to develop a slider now. I think the thing that got him through that game was getting ahead of hitters and finishing them off.”


It was Zimmer’s game to lose and Giarratano wasn’t going to take the ball out of his hand.


“I thought from the very beginning in inning number one when he went out there and he was aggressive,” Giarratano said. “He didn’t see all the fans and he was just in the present moment. I was convinced he was going to give us every opportunity to win.”


UCLA had USF’s number all year. The two teams played a three-game series early in the 2011 season with the Bruins taking all three games, but this night was different.


“Offensively we were able to execute against Gerrit Cole early and it gave us confidence,” Giarratano said. “As we added to the lead and as Kyle continued to pitch, the difference maker was us able to play ahead of them one time as opposed to playing behind them, and that was the first time we had been ahead of them in 28 innings.”


Zimmer ended the 2011 season with a 6-4 record and 89 strikeouts in 91.2 innings. He also had a 3.73 ERA and went 4-1 in conference play.


USF plans on taking its momentum from last year and putting towards defending its West Coast Conference title this year. The Dons lost a lot of guys from last year’s team, but they look to be strong once again.


“I think the amount of depth and the amount of guys that get out on the mound and make pitches and get outs is something that is going to separate us from a lot of the other teams in the country,” Zimmer said. “We just have 10 to 12 guys that can get up on the mound and compete at this level.


The Dons will be young this season. They are mostly freshman and junior-oriented and getting the freshmen up to speed on what they want to do is something both Zimmer and Giarratano stressed. There is unfinished business and the Dons look to push farther into the postseason.


“We’ve got to go out and put money in the bank and earn some W’s and get some respect,” Giarratano said. “We are not going to sneak up on anyone any more. We are not the underdog everyone thought we were for the last eight years. We are going to have to play better then we have.”