Walkoffs are just one of many great scenes in baseball, and it doesn’t have to be a home run to be special. As long as the amount of runs needed cross home plate, a hero is made regardless of the method. The moment when the dugout clears to celebrate is one of the most exciting things in the sport.
Just ask any player.
“It’s one of my favorite parts of baseball,” APSU closer Jared Carkuff said. “Obviously, it’s the whole team and you get that walkoff and you get to jump out there and have fun. I love that part of it.”
On Wednesday, March 26, the Govs were on both ends of the spectrum as they played host to Evansville for a doubleheader, featuring two seven innings games, at Raymond C. Hand Park. APSU defeated the Purple Aces 7-6 in 11 innings to begin the day, but dropped the second by a score of 10-9. Each game featured a game-winning hit, so there was plenty of excitement over the course of 18 innings.
In the first matchup, both teams battled to shift the lead over the course of seven innings, but extras were needed after Kevin Corey grounded out to tie the game at 6-6. From that point on, the bullpen for the Govs was untouchable. The offense had chances with runners in scoring position on a couple occasions, but could not end it until the 11th frame.
With two outs in the bottom of the 11th, senior Matt Wollenzin doubled with two outs to be declared the potential winning run. Ridge Smith, the team’s leader in runs batted in, followed with a single to the left side. Wollenzin was waved around third, and beat out the throw home by a narrow margin as everyone wearing a white jersey bombarded Smith.
“It was great. That was pretty awesome in college to get the first walkoff hit,” Smith said. “I got pretty beat up in the pile, but besides that it was a lot of fun.”
Carkuff earned the win after coming in to pitch from the ninth inning on, and was dominant. The sophomore faced the minimum — not allowing any of the nine batters faced to reach base — which was huge to allow Smith to have an opportunity to come through with the clutch hit.
“It was really big, especially when it went 11 innings” APSU head coach Gary McClure said. “It really spread our pitching out, and he did it in order and he did with a very few number of pitchers. He had 16 pitches after the first two, and then in the third he didn’t throw many at all either. It was good for us not to overuse him and we were able to really get something out of him.”
Game 2 may not have gone longer than the first, but there was no shortage of drama.
Evansville put the Govs in an early hole by scoring four runs in the second inning off starter Mark Hendrick, but the right-hander didn’t get much help behind him as the infield committed three errors in the contest. APSU was able to stick around, trailing 6-4 after five and a half innings, but the Purple Aces plated another three in the bottom of the sixth to have a comfortable five-run lead.
But as proven time and time again this season, the Govs weren’t going down without a fight. APSU needed at least five runs to extend the game, and did just that in the top of the seventh. The Govs loaded the bases, and thanks to a hit batter and walk, they were gifted with a pair of easy runs. Two sacrifice flies cut the deficit to 9-8 until Rolando Gautier grabbed a bat to pinch hit. The senior singled to score Chase Hamilton, and just like that, it appeared another extra-inning game was on the horizon.
Unfortunately for the Govs though, that wasn’t the case.
Serving as the home team for the second game, Evansville led off the bottom of the seventh with a single, with a sacrifice bunt moving Jarod Perry to second. Jake Mahon followed with a single, and the speedy Perry was able to score and spark their own celebration.
“It was bittersweet,” Smith said of the team’s attitude following the loss. “We were glad we were able to come back and that gave us momentum, but then that ending isn’t what we expected either.”
Two walkoffs in one night isn’t exactly what the few spectators that arrived at the ballpark on a chilly night planned for either. But no matter who you were cheering for, you got a taste of excitement.
Photo: Ryan Quick (Meaghan Malone/The All State)