College baseball returned to Bryan-College Station on Thursday night at Travis Field in an all-star format that produced a typical pitcher-dominated game until it mattered most.
Team Liberty, which couldn’t protect a two-run lead in the ninth inning, recovered for an 11-10, 10-inning victory over Team Unity. The nearly four-hour game opened the Collegiate Summer Baseball Invitational, a three-day, six-game event featuring almost 90 players who had their seasons cut short by COVID-19 in mid-March.
The second game proved just as entertaining with Team Freedom getting an 8-7 walk-off victory over Team Independence at 1:50 a.m. to cap almost eight hours of baseball. The doubleheader, televised by ESPN2, started at 6 p.m. The tournament will continue Friday with Unity and Freedom playing at 5 p.m. and Independence and Liberty to follow at 8. Fans are not allowed at the games and ESPN2 showed only the first day’s action. Friday’s and Saturday’s games will be streamed online for a fee at CSBI2020.com.
Pitchers dominated the first game with 34 strikeouts, but their struggles contributed to much of the scoring. That included the ninth inning when Wharton County Junior College’s Trey Valka walked a batter and uncorked three wild pitches that allowed Unity to tie the game. Pitchers combined to walk 14 and hit two in the game.
Liberty needed only two pitches to regain the lead in the extra-inning format which had both teams start with the bases loaded. Lamar’s Chase Kemp lined a shot off the fence in right-center field for an 8-6 lead. The next batter, Creighton’s Cameron Frederick, reached by striking out when Liberty didn’t make a play on the baseball that got away from the catcher and rolled 10 feet behind home plate. Frederick ended up scoring and was the difference as Unity got two-out RBI hits from Riley Tirotta and Nick Schifftner in the bottom of the inning, but left a runner in scoring position when Lipscomb’s Maddux Houghton was thrown out at first on a bang-bang play to end the game.
Kemp went 3 for 4 with four RBIs. He walked with the bases loaded in a two-run third for a 5-0 lead. His fielder’s choice also led to a run in the seventh when Unity couldn’t complete an inning-ending double play, and the throwing error allowed a run to score, giving Liberty a 6-4 lead.
“My mindset was just go to the plate and get something early in the count that I could do damage with,” Kemp said. “I just kept that approach all night because we haven’t got to see live pitching in the past couple months and I stuck with that approach and it worked out real well for me.”
Kemp had an RBI single in Liberty’s three-run second inning. Utah’s Shay Kramer and Louisiana-Lafayette’s Julian Brock opened the inning with singles and San Angelo State’s Aaron Walters, who spent his first two seasons at A&M, walked to load the bases.
Former College Station all-state player MacGregor Hines started for Unity and had a rough outing with six of the 10 batters he faced reaching. He had to leave after he had a fingernail cut his hand while throwing a circle change-up.
Liberty added two more runs in the third a wild pitch and Kemp drew a bases-loaded walk. Liberty had only one hit in the frame, but took advantage of two walks and a hit batsman.
Unity scored four runs in the fifth, turning two walks into two runs. Schifftner hit a two-run single and West Virginia’s Austin Davis hit an RBI single but was thrown out trying to stretch it into a double.
Liberty’s Travis Hester, who also pitched at College Station, had a solid outing. Hester, who is in the NCAA transfer portal after spending two seasons at Arkansas without playing, came on in the fifth to strike out two. He also struck out two in a hitless sixth.
Unity’s Hunter Dobbins, who plays at Texas Tech and starred at Rudder, pitched two innings, striking out two, walking two and allowing two hits. He gave up a run, but it was unearned.
Unity shortstop Kodie Kolden had the game’s defensive gem, robbing Liberty’s Shea Kramer of a leadoff single in the ninth. The Washington State infielder ranged far to his right to field the ball and made a perfect throw to first base.
The lack of competitive playing time showed at times and the newly formed battery combinations led to passed balls or wild pitches that really weren’t that wild. Three batters lost their bats with Liberty’s Kramer and Julian Brock each throwing theirs over the third-base dugout.
Kramer, Texas-Rio Grande Valley’s Coleman Grubbs and Western Carolina’s Daylan Nanny had two hits each to support Kemp. Davis, Schifftner and Dayton’s Riley Tirotta each had two hits for Unity.
Kemp was lone Liberty starter not to strike out and Tirotta was the only starter on his team not to strike out.
Florida’s Isaac Nunez, Unity’s cleanup hitter, struck out four times before grounding out with the bases loaded to start the 10th for an RBI. Texas Tech’s Nate Rombach and McNeese State’s Kade Morris, who hit in the third spot ahead of Nunez, combined for five strikeouts.
Liberty 11, Unity 10 (10 in.)
Liberty 032 000 100 5 – 11 11 0
Unity 000 040 002 4 – 10 7 1
Jaycob Deese, Galveston College; Jonah Smith, Creighton (3); Shane Mejia, Nicholls State (5); Travis Hester (5); Nate Thomas, Northern Illinois (7); Trey Valka, Wharton County Junior College (8) and Julian Brock. MacGregor Hines, Dallas Baptist; Sylvester Toe, Alabama (2); Dylan Smith, Alabama (4), Hunter Dobbins, Texas Tech (6); Tristan Stivors, Texas State (8); Luke Baley, Tarleton (9) and Nate Rombach, Kade Morris (7). W – Valka. L – Baley.