The Spartans’ Jordan Zimmerman stepped up to the plate with one out in the tenth, bases empty, in a 2-2 tie. He faced a 1-1 count, took a swing, and let the ball ride.
“I was telling the ball to go,” Zimmerman said. “In my head I was screaming at it to ‘go go go.’ The wind helped me out and it snuck over the fence.”
The ball crossed the right-center wall and Zimmerman took a celebratory walk around the bases as his walk-off home run gave the Spartans a 3-2 win over the Oregon Ducks Friday afternoon.
“Off the bat, I didn’t think it was out. It was a wind-blown home-run and you do whatever it takes to win,” Spartan manager Jake Boss Jr. said “We had the last at-bat today. Give our kids credit, they battled it out in a very good ballgame.”
The Spartans needed extra innings for the first time this season after a ninth-inning meltdown extended the game, spoiling junior Cam Vieaux’s incredible start in the process.
After a leadoff walk to Ducks’ pinch-hitter Nick Catalano in the top of the ninth, junior Joe Mockbee entered the game for Vieaux in the save situation. Catalano stole second base and junior Jake Bennett knocked a line drive into center field to drive Catalano home to tie the game at 2-2. The run was to Vieaux’s credit.
“I shouldn’t have thrown him out there in the ninth,” Boss Jr. said. “I thought he was getting a little tired and his stuff started to flatten out. But he’s a competitor and he wanted to go back out. I didn’t put him in a great situation, but I give him credit for competing his tail off.”
Mockbee finished the inning to give the Spartans a chance to answer the call in the bottom of the ninth. Ducks sophomore reliever Brac Warren entered the game for junior starter Cole Irvin, and after an opening walk to freshman Royce Ando the Spartans bats left him stranded with three-straight outs, sending the game to extra innings.
Vieaux pitched a gem in this game, holding a perfect game into the sixth inning before giving up a hit to sophomore A.J. Balta to open the frame. Vieaux finished the game with a season-high of 11 strikeouts, including 10 K’s through five innings. He gave up two runs on three hits but was unable to earn the win after the ninth inning collapse.
“For the first time this year, everything was working for me. I had my fastballs, my changeup, and my slider really clicking,” Vieaux said. “I knew I was in my groove after the first batter. The way the ball was moving was as good as it’s been all year. Even in the bullpen, I felt it was going to be a good day.”
“The guy throws every single pitch like he’s in the league,” said Zimmerman of Vieaux. “The guy has three great pitches that he can throw at any time. Guys like that get to the show, and hopefully he keeps working hard and he can do something special.”
Zimmerman had his hit-streak on the line leading up to what at the time seemed like his final at-bat of the game. In the eighth inning, he launched a hit into deep right-center for a double, extending his streak to 16 games. Zimmerman finished the game 2-for-5, adjusting his batting average to .427.
Oregon starter Cole Irvin also pitched a gem for the Ducks, throwing eight strong innings and allowing two runs (one earned) on seven hits. The first inning proved to be the only troubles in his start, where he gave up one run and allowed the bases to load up. He regained his composure and got a big groundout to end the inning, leaving three Spartans on base.
“The lefty that they ran against us is as good as any there is in the country I think,” Boss Jr. said. “We’ll be hard-pressed to see a better arm all year long. We knew opportunities would be few and far between.”
Irvin and Vieaux were in an unbelievable pitching duel through the first five innings. At that point, Vieaux had a perfect game and ten strikeouts, while Irvin retired 11 straight batters and had perfect three-five innings.
The sixth inning saw Vieaux lose his perfect game and shutout when he gave up the hit to Balta, followed by a single to left field from junior Austin Grebeck that drove Balta home. The first hit and loss of the perfect game hurt even more considering Balta entered the game with just a .159 average.
In the bottom half of the sixth, Taylor Grace got his second RBI of the game by driving home Brandon Hughes, who got a big two-out double in the previous at-bat. Grace drove home Dan Durkin in the first inning on a single to right which gave the Spartans the early 1-0 lead.
“I give our guys a lot of credit. We gave up the lead in the ninth but we kept competing,” said Boss Jr. “We kept executing and taking the outs when we could get them.”
The Spartans (19-4) take the first game of their three game series against Oregon (11-11) in dramatic fashion. The Ducks will look for revenge Saturday morning when the two teams meet at McLane Baseball Stadium at 3:05.