Bulls Clinch Series Over Akron With Walk-Off Win
BUFFALO, NY - After a season in which nearly half of its losses came on walk-off hits by the opposition, the Buffalo baseball team finally got one back.
With the game tied 6-6 in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and the bases loaded, Alex Baldock lifted a soft fly ball high into the swirling winds above Amherst Audubon field.
"I was getting ready for the tenth inning to be honest," head coach Ron Torgalski said with a smile. "I saw it go up, and then the kid started to backpedal faster and I thought 'we might have a chance here.'"
And indeed the Bulls did, as the ball glanced off the glove of the retreating Akron second baseman and fell harmlessly into shallow right field, allowing the game-winning run to score and give Buffalo (10-20, 3-8 MAC) an emotional 7-6 win over the Zips (14-21, 7-5 MAC). The victory gave UB its first conference series win since 2010.
Trailing 1-0 in the second inning, the Bulls tied the game up thanks to savy baserunning. A walk by Thomas Richards and a single by Andy Smietana put runners on the corners with two outs. Matt Pollock hit a grounder to third base, but the fielder had no play at first. Instead, he went to second base, where Smietana was already rounding the base and heading to third. Caught in a pickle, Smietana held up the defense long enough to allow Richards to score from third and tie the game up
The team ran into trouble in the third though, as starting pitcher Mike McGee found trouble hitting the strike zone, walking the bases loaded before being relieved by fellow freshman Anthony Magovney. A fielder's choice and sacrifice fly would score two runs, but Magovney would pitch the team out of the danger zone and a 3-1 deficit.
The offense would again tie the score up in the fifth inning. Pollock and Jon Mestas hit back-to-back doubles to bring in the first run, and after Tom Murphy was walked intentionally and a fly out, Thomas Richards put a single right back up the middle to bring in the tying run. Richards had a perfect day at the plate, adding another hit and three walks in his five total at bats.
"Tom saw the ball really well today," Torgalski said. "He came through with a couple of big hits, but even with the walks he was getting on base and extending the innings. When he stays within himself at the plate he gets results."
Akron led off the next inning with a solo home run that snuck over the wall in left center field, but Buffalo again answered, with Mestas legging out an RBI triple in the bottom of the sixth that scored Jason Kanzler. The Bulls earned its first lead of the day in the very next inning, as Richards and Smietana drew walks and Akron misplayed a sacrifice bunt attempt by Mike Burke that would score Richards from second base and put runners in scoring position. Kanzler laid down a perfect suicide squeeze that added another run and extended the lead to 6-4.
The Bulls experienced a bit of bad luck in the eighth inning, as Akron second baseman Tyler Begun hit a deep fly ball to center field that just missed the outstretched glove of Kanzler. Unable to brace himself, Kanzler slammed hard into the wall and was unable to get the ball into the infield, giving the Zips a 2-run inside the park home run that would tie the game. Despite the misfortune, Magovney again helped the team regain its composure and set Akron down in order, ending his sixth and final inning of relief.
"Anthony Magovney came in and threw well. We asked him to come in and give us an opportunity to get back in it and he did just that," Torgalski said. "He threw strikes, and they didn't hit him very hard and he was very composed. We played pretty good defense behind him, I thought our infield played well today."
In the bottom of the ninth, the first two Buffalo batters were set down in order. Facing extra innings for the second straight game, the home team rallied with Mestas drawing a walk. Dan Scahill was then hit by a pitch, and Tom Murphy hit a grounder deep into the hole at shortstop, but the defense was unable to make a play and the bases were loaded to set up Baldock's dramatic at bat.
"We just took two out of three, by no means are we out of the conference playoff race, and I haven't seen a team that is better than us when we're playing the way we're capable of," Torgalski said. "It was great to have three close games to see how we'd respond, and we responded in two of them and just had a little bit of bad luck in the other game. We've had probably 15 games like this, so its something that we're used to. I thought we responded well all weekend."
The Bulls will remain at home for a trio of mid-week games, welcoming in Big Four rival Niagara for a doubleheader Tuesday before facing Canisius on Wednesday. Game one against the Purple Eagles will start at 2 pm, with the game playing on a tape delay on Time Warner Cable Sports Wednesday at 6:30 pm.