LANEY COLLEGE — When top-notch baseball players are on the field, their presence and ability to protect other players in the lineup often becomes a subject of discussion.
That was evident on Tuesday as Stanford commit Adam Crampton went hitless for Oakland Tech in the first game of the 2019 Transbay Series, but his presence at the top of the lineup led the Bulldogs to walk the game off in the bottom of the ninth with him in the on-deck circle, beating Lowell 3-2 to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three series.
With No. 9 hitter Cameron Bonzell up and two men on, the Bulldogs would have been inclined to call for a sacrifice bunt and move the runners up, but when Oakland Tech (11-12) did so in the bottom of the seventh, the Cardinals responded by intentionally walking Crampton with first base open and eventually got out of the inning to take the game to extras.
Bulldogs manager Bryan Bassette wasn’t going to let that happen again, saying, “the thinking was if we bunted, they’d just walk Adam, so let’s just stay aggressive.”
Bonzell did stay aggressive, fouling the first pitch back before showing bunt on the second. He then pulled back and lined Cameron Tang’s offering back up the middle and into center field, and Emilio Cohen beat center fielder Trey Chase’s throw home for the winning run.
“I’ve gotta give all credit to my coach for calling that,” Bonzell said. “We practice bunts all the time. The little stuff is what wins games, and I just got put in the right situation.”
The walkoff meant Lowell (21-7) wouldn’t come away with a win in what was likely Levi Humphrey’s final pitching appearance in a Cardinals uniform. He scattered six hits and two runs over seven innings, allowing one in the first and nearly getting out of the sixth before the Bulldogs tied it.
“Levi’s been our guy all year,” Lowell manager Daryl Semien said. “It’s a disappointment we couldn’t push runs across to get a W for him in a situation where he went and did his job. Baseball’s a team sport, and for lack of a better analogy, all cylinders have to be clicking.”
Dylan Hughes, who singled home the game’s first run, doubled with one out in the sixth, but Humphrey had a shot to get out of the inning after striking out Sammy Heinz. Isaac Lucas sent a fly ball towards the gap in right center, and though right fielder Connor Vo was able to close the gap and make a valiant sliding attempt, the ball popped out of his glove, allowing Hughes to score the tying run.
Vo had two of Lowell’s seven hits on the day, though he was thrown out trying to stretch a double into a triple to end the top of the sixth as Crampton made a perfect relay throw. Aidan Young, the second of four Oakland Tech pitchers on the day, got Vo to ground out in the third after the Cardinals had scored a pair and threatened for more. Sophomore catcher Shane Stanley led off with a single, and Tang’s double to the gap put two men in scoring position. Humphrey’s groundout allowed Stanley to score to tie the game, and a wild pitch brought Tang home. Jack Schonherr then walked, and Mark Zhu struck out on a pitch in the dirt but beat the throw to first to extend the inning. Schonherr, running hard on the play, took third with ease, and though Zhu advanced to second, Young was able to get the key groundout to escape.
Lowell would have at least one baserunner in every inning except the fourth, but only had multiple men on base in two of those innings. The only Cardinal to reach third base after the third inning was Philippe Astier, who walked to lead off the seventh to set up the top of the order. He advanced to second with one out on a pickoff error and took third on a wild pitch with two outs, but Isaac Lucas struck out both Jordy Bach and Stanley to escape trouble.
Michael Paltiel singled to lead off the bottom of the seventh, and though a wild pitch made Oakland Tech’s plans to sac bunt unnecessary, Bonzell grounded out, leaving first base open for Semien to call for Crampton to be intentionally walked. Humphrey pitched his way out of trouble, striking Alex George out and getting Blaine French to fly out to right to force extras.
When the bottom of the order came up again in the ninth, the Bulldogs were dead-set on making sure first base wouldn’t be open when Crampton came up. Cohen led off with a single, and a walk to Paltiel brought Bonzell up, who singled to center to put his team a game away from winning a second straight Transbay Series.
The win marked Oakland Tech’s third straight extra-inning win in the series, all coming by one run. The Bulldogs will have a chance to clinch the title on Thursday at 4 p.m. at San Francisco State’s Maloney Field.