By: Tyler Hotz/Louisiana Tech Athletics
RUSTON, La. – Walk-off magic at the Love Shack strikes once again.
For the third time this season, No. 18 Louisiana Tech blasted a walk-off home run in its home ballpark to earn a victory over a conference opponent. As a 3-1 pitch approached third baseman Hunter Wells at home plate, the switch hitter turned on the fifth pitch of his at-bat in the 12th inning to end the longest game in Conference USA Tournament history at 4 hours and 59 minutes.
Wells’ solo shot that sailed beyond the wall in right center helped the Bulldogs advance to the final game on Thursday night, which has a projected start time of 7:30 p.m. No. 2 seed LA Tech (37-16) will face the winner of third-seeded Southern Miss and sixth-seeded WKU. The matchup between the Golden Eagles and Hilltoppers began after midnight at J.C. Love Field at Pat Patterson Park.
Wells, who now sits just seven hits away from breaking LA Tech’s all-time career hits record at 270, went 3-for-5 on Wednesday night with two home runs, three runs scored and two RBI. The third baseman has reeled off six straight multi-hit games.
In front of a packed crowd of 1,743 spectators at the Love Shack, hit No. 263 of his Bulldog career powered the Bulldogs to their first postseason win in their new home stadium.
“I love the moment,” Wells said. “I’m not gonna lie.
“Ever since I’ve been a little kid I’ve wanted to be the guy at the plate. I’ve dreamed of it. I don’t run from it. And when I’m up there with a chance to end the game, I want the game in my hands. I don’t think about too much. I just try to put a good swing on it, and I happened to do so.”
The Bulldogs held a 6-4 lead entering the top of the ninth, but UTSA refused to go quietly by tallying two runs in the inning to extend the game. The Bulldogs put the winning run in scoring position in the bottom of the ninth, 10th and 11th innings before Wells’ solo shot to lead off the 12th ended the ballgame.
Defensively, a stellar defensive play from left fielder Cole McConnell helped keep the Roadrunners off the scoreboard in the 11th. After moving runners up 90 feet to second and third behind Jonathan Tapia’s sacrifice bunt, Shea Gutierrez lifted a fly ball to left field. McConnell drifted over, caught the ball and then unleashed a bullet to catcher Jorge Corona at home plate to cut down UTSA’s Joshua Lamb at home plate to complete the 7-2 inning-ending double play.
Left-handed reliever Nick Ellis came up clutch in the top of the 10th, entering the game with a runner on first and nobody out before stranding runners on second and third to end the frame. Ellis induced a flyout to left field from UTSA cleanup batter Leyton Barry on a 3-2 pitch to earn the third and final out of the top of the 10th.
The Roadrunners (22-25) struck first in Wednesday’s game behind a solo home run from catcher Nick Hornquist. The Bulldogs then tallied five straight runs over the next four innings to jump ahead of UTSA 5-1. An RBI single from shortstop Alex Ray in the second tied the game at 1-1 before Wells’ first home run of the night put the Bulldogs up 2-1 in the third.
McConnell recorded a two-out, two-RBI single in the fourth to extend Tech’s lead to 4-1 in the fourth. Another two-out single, this time from leadoff batter Taylor Young, capped off the streak of five straight runs for the Bulldogs in the top of bottom of the fifth.
Right-handed reliever Kyle Crigger entered a bases-loaded, nobody-out situation in the top of the sixth and allowed just two runs to cross home plate. Crigger induced three straight groundouts to C-USA Defensive Player of the Year Taylor Young at second base to keep the Bulldogs in front at 5-3 after the top of the sixth. Designated hitter Steele Netterville then lifted a sacrifice fly to right field in the bottom of the sixth to push Tech’s lead back to 6-3.
UTSA chipped away at LA Tech’s lead with a run in the top of the eighth before tying the game behind Jonathan Tapia’s two-out RBI double in the top of the ninth.
LA Tech’s victory in the late evening hours on Wednesday marked its longest game since 2010. It also marked the Bulldogs’ first opening-round win in the C-USA Tournament in program history.
Young, Ray and Wells recorded multi-hit performances in the extra-inning victory. The Bulldogs are now 2-1 in extra innings this season.
Both victories came at home against the Roadrunners.
“I thought it was awesome that Hunter, who’s one of the best hitters in our program’s history, came through in a big way,” head coach Lane Burroughs said. “I knew when it went 3-1 that he’s going to be on the fastballs.
“If he sees them enough, he’s going to jump it and obviously walk it off. I’m just really proud of him and our team.”