Sometimes a baseball team gets the proverbial reprieve from the governor.
Rarely, however, is it as stunning as it was for the BYU baseball team Thursday night at Larry H. Miller Field against Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference opener for both teams.
Cougar sophomore left fielder Mitch McIntyre stood on second base, representing the tying run in the bottom of the ninth as BYU trailed the Bulldogs, 2-1.
When freshman shortstop Carson Matthews hit a high pop-up that drifted toward first base, McIntyre knew the game was probably over — but he kept running around the bases anyway.
When Gonzaga senior first baseman Nick Nyquist stunned everyone by losing the ball in the lights and letting it fall to the ground, McIntyre was only steps away from home plate and he cruised in, sending the game to extra innings.
“I thought it was the Twilight Zone,” BYU head coach Mike Littlewood said. “I’ve never seen that with that easy of a pop-up. I kind of felt bad for the kid — in a small, small way.”
That dramatic bottom-of-the-ninth comeback ended up not being enough to save BYU’s six-game winning streak. The Bulldogs took the lead in the 11th inning and held on to get the 4-2 win.
“I thought it was a really good baseball game,” Littlewood said. “In every single one of these games, it’s going to come down to a play here or a play there that is going to be the difference-maker. It was tonight. We hit balls on the screws all night right at them, and they got a couple of key hits when they needed them.”
The final hero for the Bulldogs was sophomore shortstop Ernie Yake.
After going 0-for-4 at the plate during the regulation nine innings, Yake stepped into the batter’s box in the top of the 11th inning with runners on first and second but two outs.
He made the most of his opportunity, rifling a double to the gap in right-centerfield and driving in both runs.
The Cougars had one final chance to rally again but this time they ran out of magic, getting the tying run to the plate with two outs but ending the contest with a strikeout.
“We walked their No. 9 hitter twice,” Littlewood said. “We put a guy in scoring position and it came back to haunt us.”
Both teams got runners on base but for most of the contest couldn’t find a way to bring them home.
BYU — which stranded 10 runners — got on the board in the bottom of the fourth inning off a solo homer over the right-field fence by sophomore third baseman Jackson Cluff.
Gonzaga tied things up when Yake drove in Nyquist with an RBI groundout in the fifth, then took the lead in the top of the ninth when Nyquist got an RBI single to drive in sophomore third baseman Brett Harris.
The Cougars were led at the plate by Cluff, who went 2-for-5 with the home run.
BYU got a decent outing from senior starting pitcher, who scattered five hits and allowed just one run in 6 2/3 innings.
“Jordan did a great job,” Littlefield said. “The run they scored to tie it up was a jam-shot to right. In that inning, I don’t think he gave up a hard-hit ball. He did what he needed to do.”
In the end, however, the Cougars just couldn’t get the offense rolling.
“We couldn’t string hits together,” Littlefield said. “We would get a hit here and then a big strikeout. We would have a guy on second with two outs, which is a tough way to play because then you have to get a base hit. They did a nice job and pitched well. They beat us. We didn’t give it away.”
BYU will continue the series against the Bulldogs with Game No. 2 of the three-game set at Larry H. Miller Field Friday at 6 p.m.