After trailing by a run in the eighth inning, Valley’s offense awoke through multiple clutch hits to grab a series-opening victory.
By Benjamin Royer, Sports Editor
Freshman right fielder Joshua Wood is mild-mannered, quiet and as coach Dave Mallas said postgame, “most importantly a hard worker.”
But after hitting a walk-off single to lead Valley College to a 6-5 win over Bakersfield on Tuesday afternoon, the Monarchs’ hero at the plate could not help to wear his emotions on his sleeve.
“It does not get better than that. Pure joy,” said Wood, smiling, still reeling himself in after his game-winning hit.
The Monarchs (15-8, 4-3 WSC South) battled with the heat and their opponents as they traded blow for blow with the Renegades (5-19, 0-7 WSC South). But in the end, Valley was able to rally late to overcome the basement dwellers of the Western State Conference.
On Monday, Pitching coach Josh Goossen-Brown told The Star that the Monarchs were going to tinker with starting pitcher combinations against the Renegades.
During Tuesday’s game, the plan was confirmed when freshman right-hander Daniel Parra took the mound instead of regular first-game starter Josh Kim. The power pitcher weathered through 4.1 innings against Bakersfield despite allowing seven hits and four runs. The 6-foot-1-inch righty struck out five Renegades while not walking a batter.
“It feels good,” said Parra about his longest start of the campaign. “My outings keep progressively getting better. I feel like when I am on the mound good things will happen. We are a good team and everyone works together.”
After the Renegades jumped on the board with a run-scoring single in the top of the first, the Monarchs immediately responded.
Freshman shortstop Maddox Latta doubled down the left-field line to lead off the bottom of the first. Freshman center fielder Jackson Lapiner and Wood hit sacrifice flies to send Latta home – tying the contest at one.
In the bottom of the fourth, freshman infielder Lee Brandzel walked, stole second and advanced to third on a sacrifice fly from Wood. Later in the inning, Asher walked and stole second himself, setting up a two-out opportunity for freshman left fielder Yeonwon Jeong. Jeong capitalized, piercing a 3-2 fastball into left-center and scoring both runners to give the Monarchs a 3-1 lead.
Just a half-inning later, three doubles and a single scored two runs for Bakersfield and when freshman left-hander Josh Eigenbrodt entered in Parra’s place, another run came home on a bloop single to center field.
The Renegades led 4-3 and added on in the next frame.
Valley’s left-hander threw strikes, but the Renegades were consistently making contact. Using a two-strike approach at the plate, Bakersfield hit three straight singles to lead off the sixth – scoring another run and increasing its advantage to two.
Following the seventh-inning stretch, the Monarchs’ offense showed life. Jeong and freshman first baseman Tyler Olivas reached on a hit-by-pitch and single respectively. After reaching, the latter stole second to put runners on second and third for the Monarchs with no outs. One out later, Latta hit a come-backer to the Renegades pitcher – causing Jeong to get caught between third and home. Somehow, someway, the freshman from South Korea rushed home and slipped under the tag to bring across a run and decrease the deficit to one.
Time was dwindling, as Valley had six outs to make something of the contest. Asher led off the bottom of the eighth and took matters into his own hands – hitting a standup triple and tying the game by scoring on a safety squeeze bunt from Jeong.
“[Jeong] brings a lot of energy, he plays with a lot of emotion – maybe too much sometimes,” said Mallas. “The rundown to score was huge. To be able to put down a squeeze was outstanding. The kids love him. I am very happy for him.”
Lapiner subsequently laced a one-out double down the right-field line, setting up Wood to hit a walk-off single and win the game in the bottom of the ninth. As the game ended, the Monarchs’ chanted “We love Woody” – a sign of endearment to their right fielder.
Valley will return to action on Thursday when the Monarchs travel to Bakersfield Thursday for game two of the three-game set. The first pitch is planned for 3 p.m.