Emsley-Pai blasts walk-off homer in the ninth
LEWISTON, Idaho – Thanks to a two-out ninth inning home run by Kawika Emsley-Pai the Lewis-Clark State College baseball team added its sixth walk-off win of the season to its belt on Tuesday. This time the game-ending blow put the Warriors past George Fox University 4-3.
Despite having already won via walk-off rallies five times this season, Tuesday night was the first time that the Warriors ended a game with a long ball. Heading into the bottom of the ninth, some Warrior fans might have guessed that a home run would win it—but few probably guessed which Warrior the stroke would come from.
After escaping a bases-loaded jam in the top of the inning, the Warriors entered the bottom of the ninth with some momentum on their side and the middle of their lineup coming up. Cleanup hitter Pat Murray, who is third on the team with eight home runs this season, stepped to the plate first, but eventually went down swinging. Brian Burke, who leads the team with 15 blasts, then took his turn and was forced into a groundout to the shortstop. Finally, Emsley-Pai, a junior out of Mill Creek, Wash., came to the plate with just one home run to his name this year and belted a no-doubter over the wall in right-center field.
The victory extends LCSC’s win streak to 13 games and improves its season record to 44-3. George Fox, an NCAA D-III school, is now at 23-15. The Warriors, which were again listed as the No. 1 team in the NAIA poll released on Tuesday, continue to hold the best winning percentage in the NAIA.
The first five innings of Tuesday’s game was nothing short of a pitcher’s duel as LCSC’s Tyler Knigge and GFU’s Mark Putney kept both teams off the scoreboard.
Finally in the sixth, George Fox snuck a run past Knigge, but the Warriors quickly responded with two runs in the bottom of the inning. The Bruins scored their run thanks to a leadoff walk followed by an RBI double to left-center by Sam Stahl. LCSC answered with a leadoff homer by Gino Casini, his third of the year, followed by a double and a sacrifice fly later in the inning.
In the seventh, the Bruins came back with two runs by knocking three singles and taking advantage of a Warrior fielding error. Josh Burch brought home both runs with a single up the middle.
Down 3-2, Lewis-Clark State tied the game in bottom of the seventh. Burke started the rally with a single down the left field line, and Emsley-Pai then put runners at first and second with a single to left. Then with one out, Trent Bridges hit a fly ball to right-center which allowed Connor Moore, who was pinch-running for Burke, to advance from second to third and setup the ensuing play. Running on a 1-2 pitch, the runner at first broke for second, the Bruins threw the ball towards second, intercepted it, and threw it back home but the throw was late and Moore scored on the double-steal.
George Fox didn’t stop threatening to retake the lead, however, as the Bruins ended up leaving 12 runners on base in the game and three of them were in the ninth. Facing LCSC closer Henry Buenrostro, George Fox loaded the bases thanks to a walk, a single, and an intentional walk, but saw its final two batters go down on a strike out and groundout to end the threat.
Buenrostro earned the win as he went three innings, struck out two, and surrendered two runs. Knigge threw six innings, struck five, and surrendered just one run and two hits.
Chad Jones came on in relief for the Bruins and was cruising with three strikeouts in one and two-thirds innings until he was tagged with the walk-off by Emsley-Pai. Putney went seven innings, struck out five, and surrendered three runs on six hits.
Emsley-Pai and Jason Hague had two hits apiece and were the only Warriors with multiple hits in the game, while Danny Anguiano had one hit to extend his hitting streak to 11 games. Jason Brown had two hits for the Bruins.
In what is their final regular season home game, the Warriors will meet the Bruins again on Wednesday at 3 p.m.