MALIBU, Calif. — Sometimes all it takes is one good swing to turn a series around. Kolten Yamaguchi provided that swing for Pepperdine on an overcast Sunday afternoon at Eddy D. Field Stadium.
Down to its final out, trailing 3-2 in the ninth inning, Yamaguchi laced the first pitch he saw from Loyola Marymount closer Bret Dahlson. Yamaguchi’s line shot scraped over the right field wall for a game-tying home run.
After a walk and an error put two men on, Drew Hacker lined a pitch up the middle and Ranny Lowe came around to score to give the Waves (10-9, 2-1) a 4-3 victory and the series win on the opening weekend of West Coast Conference play.
Loyola Marymount (8-12, 1-2) had jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the third inning with a Matt Lowenstein RBI single and a Colton Plaia two-run double. Pepperdine outfielder Chris Amezquita hit a solo homer in the third inning and Yamaguchi scored on a wild pitch by LMU starter Aaron Griffin in the fifth inning, but the Waves hadn’t sniffed a hit in 2 2/3 innings against relievers Carlos Fuentes and Dahlson until Yamaguchi stepped to the plate with two down in the ninth.
The Game Changer:
Pepperdine has been without the services of fifth-year catcher Nate Johnson after he injured his posterior cruciate ligament diving into third base last Friday against Seton Hall and without starting second baseman Hutton Meyer since he was forced to leave the final game of the Oklahoma series. But the season doesn’t stop when you have injuries. It keeps rolling along, which means someone has to step in — and hopefully step up.
Kolten Yamaguchi and Drew Hacker definitely stepped up in the ninth inning. Yamaguchi said when he walked to the plate he was praying for something middle-in and when he saw the high fastball from Bret Dahlson, his heart stopped. He turned on the pitch and lined his third career home run (and his third home run this week after two at USC on Tuesday).
Ranny Lowe drew a five-pitch walk and Cody Nulph avoided first baseman Cullen Mahoney’s tag after a high throw from David Edwards pulled Mahoney off the bag, setting the scene for Hacker’s walk-off dramatics. Hacker drove a 2-2 pitch right back up the middle. Lowe came around to score from second as centerfielder Zac Fujimoto’s throw was a couple steps up the third base line. Colton Plaia tried to keep a leg out to block the plate, but had to jump to nab the throw, allowing Lowe to slide in with the winning run.
Here’s a slideshow of Lowe chugging around third and the ensuing celebration:
Best Pitch/Pitcher: In college baseball, your best four arms generally fill the weekend rotation and closer positions, but having a middle reliever that can bridge the gap between the starters and the closer is a huge boon to any staff.
“People don’t realize those bridge guys are just so valuable,” Pepperdine head coach Steve Rodriguez said. “They can have a really good inning or a really bad inning and the game can change based on what they do.”
Rodriguez is fortunate to have one of the top ‘bridge’ guys in Eric Karch. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound junior is capable of filling whatever bullpen role is needed from long reliever to setup to inning stopper. Karch comes in pounding the strike zone with an 88-90 mph fastball that was up to 91 on occasion Sunday.
“Probably one of the most important guys on our team,” Rodriguez said after Karch pitched three scoreless innings to keep the Waves only one run down heading into the bottom of the ninth. “He has come in and done a phenomenal job. We’ve asked him to go a couple of innings, three, four innings and he just competes. The kid just flat-out competes.”
Picking up the win after Yamaguchi and Hacker’s ninth inning heroics, Karch is now 4-1 on the season and sports a minuscule 0.95 ERA in 19 innings.
Pepperdine sophomore second baseman Drew Hacker talks about his walk-off hit and using the win to carry momentum forward:
Waves catcher Kolten Yamaguchi talks about his game-tying home run:
Loyola Marymount head coach Jason Gill after the tough loss:
Pepperdine head coach Steve Rodriguez talks about winning the series and the versatility that Eric Karch provides as a bridge guy in the bullpen:
- Matt Lowenstein – 3-for-4, 3B, RBI
- Carlos Fuentes – 2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, K
- Aaron Griffin - 6 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 5 K
- Kolten Yamaguchi – 2-for-4, 2 R, HR, RBI
- Drew Hacker – 2-for-4, GWRBI
- Eric Karch - 3 IP, H, 0 R, 2 K
The Bottom Line:
This is a huge boost for Pepperdine going into a week without a mid-week game. Before evening the series on Saturday, Pepperdine had lost seven of nine and was in danger of dropping its third consecutive weekend series. Instead, the Waves carry some momentum into a week of practice before hosting Santa Clara next weekend.
It’s also big for them to have two reserves that are filling in due to injuries have success. Having reserves play a prominent role in the type of improbable comeback only further carries the momentum forward as it’s a huge morale booster. The everyday starters can have faith there are offensive weapons waiting behind them, pushing them to compete and perform.
The Waves do still have some issues to correct. Corey Miller was fantastic in a complete game effort on Saturday, but Scott Frazier struggled with his command again on Friday and Aaron Brown didn’t make it to the fifth inning Sunday. Because of Miller’s effort, Eric Karch was rested and able to go three innings to pick up the win Sunday, but the other bullpen arms besides Karch and closer Michael Swanner have been inconsistent.
Pepperdine did seem to break out a little offensively on Saturday, notching 11 runs on 13 hits. The Waves had seven hits on Sunday, but three of those were infield singles. The potential return of Brown to the lineup in the next couple weeks will definitely help.
For Loyola Marymount, Sunday’s loss is just the latest heartbreaker. The Lions have now lost five games by one run and all five times, it has been in the opposing teams final at bat, including four walk-off losses. Each of those walk-off losses has gone to closer Bret Dahlson, which begs the question of whether he should remain in that role.
Dahlson provides a power arm at the backend with the ability to pitch above 90 mph and when he’s on, he has a nasty changeup that has late drop, but his problem has been control. In a loss to UNLV, Dahlson walked two batters before allowing a walk-off double. Against Oklahoma State, a wild pitch advanced the winning run to third base. Yamaguchi’s homer was the second Dahlson has given up and both came on first pitch fastballs to left-handers that he has left up in the zone.
Last season, Dahlson had a couple of rough outings, but was LMU’s top reliever when all was said and done. He finished with a 2.94 ERA in 33 2/3 innings and recorded 11 saves. If Dahlson returns to last year’s form, the Lions are a team that will contend in the West Coast Conference because of how strong their starting pitching can be, but they need a shutdown guy at the back to finish off close games.
LMU starts off conference play in a small hole after San Diego swept BYU, but the Lions can get back in the thick of things with a strong series at struggling St. Mary’s next weekend.
Also check out the 22-shot photo gallery from Sunday’s dramatic down-to-the-wire game.