Jay Lee, Assistant Director of Athletics for Athletic Communications
ALVA – The Northwestern Oklahoma State University baseball team won their 2018 home opener in walk-off fashion Wednesday evening, outlasting Fort Hays State 7-6 in a 13-inning marathon. After surrendering a one run lead in the ninth inning, the Rangers finally broke through in the bottom of the 13th when Johnnuelle Ponce‘s (1-for-5, 3 BB) liner through the left side scored Daschal Johnson (3-for-5, HR, 2B, 2BB, 3RBI) to give Northwestern their fourth win to open the season.
Johnson started the game off with some fireworks when the Lewisville, Texas native launched a ball high over the left-field wall to give the Rangers a quick 2-0 lead just two batters into the game. The black-and-red would add another run in the 1st after Luis Mendoza smacked a double to the wall in right-center in his first at-bat of the season.
Senior right-hander Cole Jackson made the start on the mound for the Rangers, giving Northwestern three promising innings in his first game action since Tommy John surgery in August 2016. The 6’2 Iowa product surrendered two earned runs on just three hits but issued four walks to the Tigers’ lineup.
Fort Hays State got on the board in the 2nd when a couple of free passes and a double made it a 3-1 ballgame. Jackson would strand a pair of baserunners in the 3rd, pitching his way out of a jam with a big strikeout.
After a fielding error by the Ranger third baseman, Marcus Altman took Jackson deep for a two-run home run to tie the game in the 4th. After the home run, Collin Fouts took over but was roughed up in his 1/3 of an inning, giving up three hits and committing an error. FHSU put up four in the inning to take a 5-3 lead before Brandon Nesseralla closed the door with back-to-back strikeouts.
The Rangers answered right back in the bottom of the 4th, capitalizing on a lead-off walk to catcher Harrison Hull after Johnson picked up his third RBI with a sac-fly to left field.
It was an all hands-on deck type game for both squads as the teams combined to use 14 pitchers in a game that lasted nearly four and a half hours.
Despite six errors committed by the Tigers defense (including four by second baseman Ryan Grasser), Northwestern only managed to pick up one unearned run.
A two-run 5th gave the Rangers a 6-5 advantage that Nesseralla and Matthew Bickford would hold through the eighth inning before giving way to closer Bryson Wrobel looking for his third save.
Although Wrobel looked sharp once again, Tiger third baseman Alex Weiss made the freshman pay for a first-pitch mistake out over the plate when he tied the game with a shot to left in the top of the 9th.
The Rangers had runners in scoring position in the 10th and 11thinnings but couldn’t find a way to scrape one across. Right-handers Tyler Bernhardt and Baron Phillips held the fort in the meantime, keeping the game tied 6-6.
Johnson nearly ended the game with his second home run in the 13thbut settled for a double after he cranked one high off the wall, setting up a game-winning walk-off single through the left side from Ponce as the Ranger dugout stormed the field.
The black-and-red picked up 12 hits and worked FHSU pitchers for 13 walks, but left 22 runners on base including six in extra innings.
Northwestern will continue their homestand this week as they welcome in Missouri Southern State to Myers Stadium on Thursday and Friday. The Rangers will play a doubleheader Thursday beginning at 3 p.m. before closing the series on Friday at 1 p.m.