April 27, 2008
RUSTON, La. - As Louisiana Tech and Hawaii headed to the bottom of the ninth with the Rainbows holding a seemingly comfortable 9-3 lead, UH radio announcer Don Robbs made what turned out to be a very prophetic statement: "No lead is safe in this ballpark."
Truer words have never been spoken.
A seven-run rally in the bottom of the ninth inning, capped off by a pinch-hit, walk-off three-run home run by freshman Clint Ewing, gave Louisiana Tech a thrilling 10-9 victory over Hawaii on Sunday afternoon at J.C. Love Field.
"I love the way we kept fighting," Tech coach Wade Simoneaux said. "We could have easily folded our tents...it looked dismal for a while. I asked them to fight until the very last pitch."
The comeback evoked memories of Tech's now-legendary come-from-behind victory over third-ranked Mississippi State in 2006 when the `Dawgs rallied for six runs in the ninth - all with two out - to gain a 13-12 victory.
"This game and that Mississippi State game are the two most exciting comebacks I've ever been a part of," Simoneaux said.
Tech (18-24, 5-18 WAC) has now won consecutive WAC games for only the second time this season; however, New Mexico State's sweep at Sacramento State did not help the Bulldogs' cause of earning the final spot in next month's WAC Tournament. Hawaii (21-24, 13-11 WAC) returns to the islands clinging to second place, pending the outcome of Nevada's game with Fresno State.
It was a wild contest that included an ejection from the bench, untimely errors, seven home runs between the teams, an attempt at subterfuge by a Hawaii baserunner and some late-inning lineup maneuvers that would make softball umpires scratch their heads.
The ninth started off with a base hit from Adam Cobb - only Tech's fifth hit of the afternoon at that point. Nick Grunenwald followed that with an opposite-field, two-run homer to cut the lead to 9-5. After another base hit from Kevin Winn that chased Rainbow starter Matt Daly, it was déjà vu as Chris Bohannan, a defensive replacement in the ninth, blasted his second home run of the season. It landed in almost the exact same spot as Grunenwald's, pulling Tech to within striking distance at 9-7.
Enter Ewing, who pinch-hit for, of all people, reliever Aaron Lorio, who was in the batting lineup due to the wacky lineup changes in the eighth. With a strong wind blowing straight out to center field, the freshman from Shreveport made the most of his opportunity, drilling a 1-0 pitch over the left-center wall near the 380-foot mark to set off a wild celebration and give the Bulldogs a much-needed victory.
"I needed someone who could get the ball up in that jet stream," Simoneaux said. "The ball was flying today. Ewing was the best option in that situation, and he made the most of it."
Six of Tech's 10 hits came in the ninth. Grunenwald led the way with a pair of hits - both home runs - and Kevin Winn also had a 2-for-4 day with a homer of his own. In all, Tech hit six home runs in the game - two from Grunenwald and one each from Ewing, Winn, Bohannan and Kersten. The Bulldogs blasted 14 home runs in the four-game series, which equals Hawaii's total for the entire season.
Lorio (5-3) was credited with the win as he was the pitcher of record in the ninth inning. Dylan Moseley got the start and pitched well, giving up four runs (only two were earned) in 5.1 innings of work while walking none. Andrew Lassere, Alex Richard, Landon Braud and John Anderson also saw action on the mound as Tech pitching only walked two batters on the day.
Through the first five innings, Tech's runs were very straightforward - three runs on three hits, all solo home runs by Winn, Grunenwald and Kersten. Hawaii scored two in the fourth - one was unearned - and one in the fifth on a disputed call at third base that led to Luke Burnett being ejected from the game while on the bench.
The Rainbows would once again be the beneficiaries of a Tech fielding error and score an unearned run in the sixth to take a 4-3 lead.
In the eighth inning, Simoneaux made a rarely-seen move when, with a lefthander coming to the plate, he made the call to the bullpen for Landon Braud. Righthander Alex Richard, who had pitched a scoreless seventh, was moved to left field, eliminating the designated hitter and forcing Jericho Jones to move to right field. After facing the lefty, Richard returned to the mound and was replaced in left field by Patrick Thomas. With Jones' arm still sore from pitching on Saturday, he was then replaced in right field by Bohannan, who ended up hitting a key home run in the ninth.
While all of this was happening, a Hawaii baserunner attempted to move from second to third and hope no one would notice. However, Tech's bench did notice, Simoneaux appealed to the umpires for help, and the runner was made to return to second as boos rained down from the stands at J.C. Love Field.
The scorekeepers' nightmare almost turned into a nightmare for the Bulldogs as they gave up five runs in the frame on six hits and trailed 9-3 heading to the pivotal ninth. But the heroics of Ewing, Grunenwald and Bohannan gave the `Dawgs the exciting victory.
Louisiana Tech will step out of conference play on Tuesday and make the short trip to Grambling to face the Tigers at 6 p.m. There will be no radio broadcast, and the availability of live stats is uncertain at this point.
On Monday night, Bulldog fans can get the inside scoop on this weekend's series and the week ahead with "Direct from the Dawgs' Dugout - The Wade Simoneaux Show," live from Ponchatoula's in downtown Ruston. The show begins at 6 p.m. and can be heard on ESPN 97.7 FM (online at www.espn977.com).