Zaft proving worth
Ryan Zaft has gone from a temporary fill-in during the first week of the season to one of the most effective starting pitchers for the Yuba-Sutter Gold Sox.
Zaft, a Yuba City High and Yuba College product, pitched eight impressive innings to earn his third win, and the Sox offense came around late to provide plenty of support in a 7-0 win over the Novato Knicks on Saturday night.
The Gold Sox (21-4, 17-4) will be trying for a sweep of the four-game Horizon Air Summer Series set and their fifth straight win tonight.
Matt Suleski, also a Yuba City and Yuba College product, hit a two-RBI single in the Gold Sox's five-run eighth inning as part of a two-hit game.
But the night belonged to Zaft.
The right-handed pitcher, who is headed to Azusa Pacific in the fall on a full scholarship, had a shaky start - retiring the first two hitters before hitting two straight and then getting out of the inning with his first strikeout.
He settled down in after that, retiring seven straight before allowing his first hit, a double to the wall in right by Dennis Peters. But even a runner in scoring position couldn't shake Zaft, as he struck out the next batter to begin a string of 14 consecutive batters retired.
He has yet to allow an earned run.
“I sat on the bench after the first inning and told myself to forget about that inning,” Zaft said. “That second inning I got quick outs and I was able to roll. I started throwing my fastball and locating it for strikes and that helped. I went back to my fastball and got the ball down.”
Zaft also said his excellent spring at Yuba College has helped him to gain confidence. He was 8-3 with a 1.28 ERA as the 49ers' ace.
The Gold Sox also played incredible defense behind him, with shortstop Alex Zanini, second baseman Jeff Horn, third baseman Doug Thennis and first baseman A.J. Valentine snaring ground balls and making incredible throws and catches to force runners out.
“That gave me a lot of confidence,” Zaft said. “When they started to make those plays, I knew all I had to do was put the ball in play and not even worry about strikeouts. I like ground balls anyway. It seems to get us out of innings faster and it helps our batters get into a rhythm. I've never had a defense behind me like that.”
Zaft struck out five and did not walk a batter in the longest outing for a Gold Sox starter this season. Josh Roberts pitched the ninth, allowing a lazy single to right field with two outs, before fanning David Boogaard to end the game.
“He's a great all-around pitcher,” Peek said of Zaft. “I knew his name and I knew he was a good pitcher (before the season) but I had no idea he was this good. We're fortunate to have him.”
Ryan McClelland took the loss in six innings, allowing two unearned runs and eight hits while striking out two and walking one. He pitched well enough to keep the Gold Sox's hitters off balance, but his error in the first inning eventually led to two runs.
“They have a veteran pitcher, and he's the type of guy that gives us fits,” Peek said. “He mixes it up, does a good job of keeping the ball down and he just
knows how to pitch. He's been around a little bit. But we need to do a better job hitting with a runner in scoring position with less than two outs, and we didn't get it done tonight. We got hot late, so hopefully that carries over.”
Jonathan Dees reached on McClelland's error after hitting a come-backer that McClelland knocked down but couldn't get a grip on to throw Dees out. Dees left the game after the play with a hamstring injury and was replaced by Suleski.
A.J. Valentine's first of two hits, a double high off the wall in left, brought Suleski home to give him a team-leading 17 RBIs. Matt Edgecombe knocked Valentine home with his only hit of the game, a single to right.
Two Knicks errors in the eighth inning with reliever Jeff Henning on the mound led to five runs.
Suleski hit his two-RBI single, and Jeff Horn's second hit brought home one run. Thennis reached on his second single and later scored on an error, and Etienne Materre walked for the second time and later scored on an error.
Zanini may be 0-for-his-last-21, but he's proving his worth in the field, making seven putouts.
“Zanini had a stellar game defensively,” Peek said. “He hasn't been hitting, but he has been able to separate his game. He didn't take his offense with him out on the field.”
Notes: B.J. Collom's single in the fifth inning extended his hitting streak to seven games.
Appeal-Democrat reporter Justin Miller can be reached at 749-4796. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org