COSTA MESA, Calif. – It took 13 innings and came down to the final game of the 2014 regular season, but in the end Vanguard (RV) persevered via a walk-off single from John Schwer on his senior day to upset No. 22 Concordia, 3-2.
"That was the one of the greatest games I've ever been a part of in my baseball career," Schwer said. "Having so much on the line in the final game of the season and going deep into extras like that was unreal. We just kept making pitches and plays defensively, knowing that if we didn't our season would be over. In the 13th my teammates did a great job putting me in a position to have a special moment. Once I made contact I knew I hit it far enough to end the game. Being a senior and considering what was at stake, that was probably the most memorable hit I've ever had. It was an insanely cool feeling and is something I will never forget. I love our team and I'm so thankful we will continue to play together for at least another week."
The all-important contest ended the Eagles' season and secured The Pride its first Golden State Athletic Conference Tournament berth since the 2010 season.
The opposite would have been true had the result been flipped, but the Lions took the series 2-1 to ensure that one of the final two spots in the four-team GSAC Championships would be theirs.
Vanguard, No. 18 Westmont and Concordia finished the season tied with identical 21-15 GSAC records, but the tie-breaker scenario gave the Blue and Gold the No. 3 seed, the Warriors the No. 4 seed and sent Concordia packing for the summer.
"Every one of our players was all-in and battled for this entire series," head coach Rob Pegg said. "Our team's theme this year is all-in, and we have tried to promote our theme in everything- faith, school and baseball. This was a prime example of an all-in baseball game and effort, led by our pitching staff. Our pitchers were outstanding today; to hold a team like that scoreless for 12-straight innings is incredible. I don't like to single people out, but it has to be done here. Voechting and McKinnon's performances on the mound in game two were just unbelievable. I am so happy that McKinnon got this win for us. John Collins is a warrior for catching that many innings in two days and the composure of our freshman Sandoval at the plate and in the field was very impressive. I am so proud of our guys. They persisted through ups-and-downs and found a way to keep going."
The Lions fell 3-1 in the opener to set up the thrilling must-win nightcap game.
Scott Torrey took the loss in game one after giving up three runs in 5.1 innings. Roberto Johnson, Christian Sheehan and Sam Frakes closed the contest strong in relief but Vanguard could not muster the necessary runs after Concordia took a 3-1 lead in the sixth.
Schwer paced the Lions with two hits in the defeat, while Nick Rodda recorded Vanguard's lone run in the third by way of a lead-off homerun.
Game two lasted four grueling hours but was worth it in the end as 10 Lions' seniors, who were honored prior to the doubleheader for their respective contributions to the baseball program, survived to play another day.
Clayton Voechting got the start and allowed two early runs in the first before shutting down shop to hold the Eagles scoreless for his remaining six innings on the mound. He struck out six in the effort and allowed just four knocks in totality.
The Pride's offense gave Voechting some extra inspiration as it wrangled two runs for its hurler, one in the third and one in the sixth courtesy of a pair of RBI singles from left-fielder Brandon Sandoval, to bring the game to even.
Marshall McKinnon, no stranger to overcoming obstacles after fighting back from injury to even be in the position to substitute into Saturday's game, took the reins in the eighth with the game deadlocked at 2-2 and did not miss a step, taking what Voechting and his team had entrusted to him and refusing to give the Eagles an inch.
In fact, in sixth frames of work, McKinnon allowed just two base hits, while striking out six to put Vanguard right where it needed to be as the bottom of the 13th began.
Rodda came to the plate first, singled to left and used savvy base-running to take second on a passed ball. The Eagles intentionally walked Sandoval next, and Bret Collins loaded the bags in the following at bat with a base knock to second. Thomas Mobley reached next, on a fielder's choice which saw Rodda out at the plate, but kept the bases jammed for Schwer who decided to free up traffic with a walk-off single to left.
"This was obviously the biggest and most important win of the season for us," Voechting said. "This team stepped up big when it was needed and there is no better way to end the regular season than that right there. I am so proud of this team."
Vanguard's statistics were dominant, as the Lions out-hit Concordia 17-6 in the competition, however, to the credit of the Eagles, the game remained tight as Vanguard also left 19 runners stranded on base.
Rodda led the way with his 3-for-6 effort, but five other Lions, Sandoval, B. Collins, Taylor McKnight, John Collins and Ian Sakry, notched two hits apiece in the nightcap for the Blue and Gold.
Rodda also broke the NAIA's single season hit-by-pitch record, previously held by Brandon Bravata of Louisiana State-Shreveport (2009). Bravata was tagged 38 times in 56 games, while Rodda has already been beamed on 39 occasions through just 50 contests. No NCAA Division I player has been hit that often.
The GSAC Tournament will be hosted by top-seeded San Diego Christian (NAIA No. 7) at Grossmont College. Vanguard will take on second-seeded The Master's College (NAIA No. 12) on May 1 at 9:00 am.