Warriors fall in extra innings in Arizona season opener
ANTHEM, Ariz. – Sophomore Kyle Knigge hit his first career home run to help push the game into extra innings, however, the Lewis-Clark State College baseball team ended up falling in its season opener on Thursday. The No. 11-ranked Warriors were topped by Point Loma Nazarene 9-8 in 10 innings at the Arizona Desert Classic.
Point Loma took advantage of two Warrior errors and two walks to score five runs in the second inning. The big inning allowed the Sea Lions to stay in front until LC rallied in the sixth.
“We obviously didn’t get off to the kind of start we wanted,” LCSC head coach Gary Picone said. “Poor pitching and shaky defense put us in a hole, but I thought we showed some good things to come back against pretty good pitching.”
Knigge, a Lewiston native who held down left field most of last year as a freshman and started in left on Thursday, played one of the biggest roles in the rally as he sent the first pitch he saw over the right field fence to plate two runs and tie the game at 7-7 in the sixth.
“I think he’s a lot stronger than he was (last season),” Picone said about Knigge. “I don’t necessarily expect him to hit a ton of home runs this year, but I do expect him to continue to hit.”
From the seventh inning on, strong pitching on both sides made it clear that the game would take more than nine innings to finish.
LCSC senior Zach Clanton entered the game in long relief and ended up throwing 6.2 shutout innings. The right-hander from Coeur d’Alene surrendered just two hits against the 20 batters he faced while striking out five and walking none.
“Clanton pitched well,” said Picone. “He pitched like a senior. He was consistent and down in the zone.”
Seemingly relieved that Clanton was finally taking a seat, the Sea Lions came right at the Warriors in the top of the 10th. A hit batsmen followed by a sac bunt put a runner in scoring position to start the inning off. The Warriors intentionally walked the next batter to setup a double play possibility, however, Sea Lion first baseman Andy Littlefield stepped to the plate one batter later and lined a two-out double to the gap in right center to take a two run lead.
LCSC answered with one run in the bottom of the inning thanks to an RBI single by Alfonso Casillas, however, the game would finish with the tying run stranded at first base.
“We had plenty of chances to win it. Overall, I was encouraged in some areas, but obviously disappointed in how we started.”
LCSC led 13-10 in total hits as five Warriors turned in multiple hit games. Casillas, who topped the Warriors with a .417 batting average last season, led the way with three hits; and Knigge, Braxton Miller, Billy Silvestri, and Jordan Payne had two apiece. Knigge had team highs with three runs scored and two RBI.
Littlefield, Trey Hunt, Lucas DiCiccio, and Tyler Hanzawa led Point Loma with two hits apiece, while Mike Nigolian led the team with three runs batted in.
Chris Gonzales pitched the final 2.2 innings for the Sea Lions and picked up the win. He surrendered two hits, a run, and three walks, and struck out three.
The win improves Point Loma to 2-2 on the year, while LCSC begins the season at 0-1. The game stands as just the sixth time the Warriors have opened the season on the road since 1973.
With four games completed on Thursday, the five-team tournament will continue with three games on both Friday and Saturday.
Thursday’s action saw No. 17-ranked Fresno Pacific take down Point Loma earlier in the day 9-3, and also knock off Wayland Baptist 9-2. In the fourth game, College of Idaho defeated Wayland Baptist 7-2.
On Friday, LCSC will face Wayland Baptist at 9:30 a.m., College of Idaho will play Point Loma at 9:30 a.m., and then Fresno Pacific and College of Idaho will square off at 1 p.m. All times listed are PST.
Picone, the primary organizer of the event, was quick to note that the Arizona Desert Classic features a lot of strong teams, and that this was by design.
“We’ll have to play well to win here, and that’s why we’re here. It’s a good thing.”