At the end of this endless day, the Lewis-Clark State Warriors launched a ninth-inning salvo they probably shouldn't have had the energy to make. They had endured more than six hours on the diamond; they had spent more than nine hours in their uniforms.
That burden ultimately proved a bit too heavy. Ryan Stevenson struck out with two runners on base, thus squelching the last-ditch comeback and leaving LCSC with a 13-10 loss to Azusa Pacific.
The Tuesday evening game at Harris Field lasted 3 hours, 32 minutes -- and concluded at 10:09 p.m. It was the second half of an unusual doubleheader: The Warriors defeated Washington State 7-5 in the afternoon at Pullman (see accompanying story), then scooted back to Lewiston for the first pitch of this game just 87 minutes later.
As satisfying as the earlier victory was, this setback was conversely disappointing. L-C bagged three runs in the first and held Azusa scoreless over the first three innings. And when the Warriors were faced with a 13-6 deficit entering the ninth, they authored an interesting but incomplete rally.
L-C, 28-6, encountered two dubious milestones in this contest. It was the Warriors' first setback in 17 games against fellow NAIA clubs, and it was the first time coach Ed Cheff has been ejected this season. (Cheff bolted from the dugout to protest a balk call in the sixth, and was quickly thumbed by base umpire Doug Thornton. After the game, Cheff declined to comment.)
The key figure for the Cougars was pitcher Derek Wohlers. The right-handed senior slipped behind immediately, permitting four hits and three runs in the first. But he cruised through most of the next 63 innings, finishing with six strikeouts, three walks, 10 hits allowed -- and 141 total pitches.
Wohlers' performance may sound familiar. Last April, the 6-foot-4 workhorse vexed L-C in Azusa's 11-5 victory at Harris Field.
In Tuesday's game, Wohlers said keeping the ball low and tossing his changeup regularly were crucial.
But "probably the biggest key to my success was playing in front of my family," said Wohlers, a Spokane native who attended Central Valley High. "Being back home, I was trying to get amped up and pitch a good game for them. They don't get to see me throw much anymore since I'm living down there."
Wohlers was pounded in his last outing and pulled after only about 20 pitches. During Tuesday's woolly opening frame, the Cougars considered lifting him again.
"The nice thing that he did was settle down," Azusa coach Paul Svagdis said. "I'd like to think that it was like a stroke of genius that I knew he was going to settle down. But it wasn't. It was just the fact that we have three more games and not a lot of pitching depth."
The Cougars, 23-13, snared the lead in the sixth, as they brought in four runs. Moments after Cheff was booted, pinch hitter Billy Gwinn smacked an RBI triple. Nick Mercado, Robbie Lindsey and Glenn Hedgpeth all followed with run-scoring production.
Azusa rang up 12 of its runs over the last five innings. In the meantime, the Warriors watched scoring chances drift away.
They put two runners on base in the seventh, but Derek Bruce hit into an inning-ending double play. Stevenson did the same thing in the eighth. After both putouts, the players and coaches in APU dugout rushed onto the field and celebrated.
Down to its last chance in the ninth, LCSC suddenly responded. The first four batters blistered hits, with Bruce knocking in a run and pinch-hitter Allen Balmer plating two.
After Jose Rodriguez lifted a run-scoring sacrifice fly, Tyler Best drew a walk. With two men on base and two down, Stevenson came to bat.
On a 2-2 offering, Hedgpeth, the Azusa reliever, threw an outside pitch. Stevenson missed with a big swing.
Even after the rousing win, Svagdis stayed focused. He probably remembers that, in last season's series with LCSC, the Cougars lost the last two games after the opening victory.
"Playing these guys, we could go through 10 pitchers tomorrow," Svagdis said. "(The win) is great, but I'm not necessarily pumped up. We have to be constant and ready to play tomorrow."
These teams will play a doubleheader -- a conventional doubleheader -- beginning today at 3 p.m. at Harris Field.