Mason Gray allowed just two runs over 7.1 impressive innings as Utah Valley held a 4-2 lead in the ninth, but UT Rio Grande Valley’s Jacob Hirsh played hero for the Vaqueros with a three-run walk-off home run to lift No. 3 UTRGV to an opening-round 5-4 WAC Tournament victory over No. 6 UVU on Wednesday afternoon at Hohokam Stadium.
With the Wolverines (10-46) holding to the 4-2 advantage in the last of the ninth, UTRGV (30-24) got consecutive hits to start the last of the ninth from Joseph Impeduglia and Angel De La Cruz to set the table for the Vaqueros. After a sac bunt from Elijah Alexander moved the runners to second and third, Hirsh delivered the heroics with the walk-off three-run home run to deep right field. With the loss, UVU will now fall to an elimination game and face either No. 4 New Mexico State or No. 5 Seattle U on Thursday at noon MT/11 a.m. PT.
“Mason had a great outing and put us in a great spot to win this one. We also did a nice job of getting to their starter early offensively, but we just couldn’t get through that ninth,” interim head UVU coach David Carter said. “It’s definitely disappointing to lose this game, but our kids have been playing better baseball as of late and we’ll look to bounce back tomorrow.”
Mitch Moralez got the Wolverines off to a strong start with a leadoff double down the leftfield line in the top of the first to get into scoring position for the Wolverines. After a flyout to right off the bat of Kade Poulsen moved Moralez to third with two away, Brandon Luna plated Moralez with a sharp two-out RBI single up the middle to give UVU an early 1-0 advantage.
UVU then extended its early lead to 2-0 thanks to an RBI groundout from Mick Madsen in the second. Jeff Arens led off the frame with double to right and later moved to third on a single from Drew Sims. He then came into score on a groundout to short off the bat of Madsen to extend UVU’s early lead. Utah Valley then made it 3-0 after scoring another run in the third. Poulsen and Luna set the table with back-to-back hits, and Alexander Marco drove home Poulsen with sacrifice fly to center to give the Wolverines the quick three-run cushion.
With Gray pitching well on the afternoon for Utah Valley, the Vaqueros managed to get to him for the first time with two runs on three hits in the third to pull within a run at 3-2. Christian Sepulveda started the third-inning rally for UTRGV with a bunt single and he later came in to score on an RBI triple from Andy Atwood. Diego Ramirez then capped the scoring for the Vaqueros in the inning with an RBI single up the middle to make it a one-run game at the time.
Gray bounced back from there by putting up zeros in the scoreboard in the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh innings to keep it a 3-2 lead for the Wolverines. During the stretch, Gray allowed just three hits while striking out four and not surrendering any runs during the middle innings. After surrendering the three early runs, first team All-WAC performer and UTRGV starter Kevin Stevens too responded by pitching well to keep it a one-run game. Stevens sat down 10 Wolverine hitters in a run during the stretch to keep it a 3-2 contest into the ninth.
The Vaqueros then got a one-out walk from Atwood in the last of the eighth, but UVU reliever Devin Smith came on and managed to draw a big inning-ending 4-6-3 double play off the bat of Ramirez to send it to the ninth with the Wolverines holding to the 3-2 lead.
The Utah Valley offense then managed to push across big insurance run in the top of the ninth to extend its lead to 4-2. Arens started the ninth-inning rally with a leadoff single and Madsen later followed with a one-out single to put runners on the corners. Pinch runner Connor Hall then managed to score from third a couple of pitches later on a wild pitch.
The Vaqueros then managed to win it in the ninth with the three-run walk-off homer from Hirsh.
Gray was very good in the 2021 opening tournament start for the Wolverines by allowing just two runs on seven hits while striking out four and walking just one over 7.1 innings to be in line for the victory. UTRGV’s Stevens also had a strong start by surrendering four runs on 12 hits while fanning five over 8.1 innings. UTRGV reliever Ricky Gerik Jr. was credited with the win to improve to 6-3, while UVU’s Dylan Cook took the loss to fall to 0-2.
Luna was one of four Wolverines to finish with multiple-hit outings on the day and led the way by going 3-for-4 with an RBI. Arens, Sims and Tavyn Lords all followed by going 2-for-4 apiece. Impeduglia led UTRGV by recording three hits, while Hirsch drove in three runs.
The Wolverines will continue the 2021 WAC Baseball Tournament on Thursday at noon MT/11 a.m. PT in an elimination game against either the fourth-seeded NM State Aggies or the fifth-seeded Seattle U Redhawks. Senior right-hander Jesse Schmit will get the ball on the mound for the Wolverines on Thursday.