The562’s coverage of Long Beach Poly athletics in the 2022-23 school year is sponsored by Poly alum Jayon Brown and PlayFair Sports Management.
The562’s coverage of Long Beach Poly athletics in the 2022-23 school year is sponsored by JuJu Smith-Schuster and the JuJu Foundation.
The562’s coverage of Long Beach Wilson Athletics is sponsored by Joel Bitonio, Class of 2009.
The unbelievable is becoming commonplace for this year’s Long Beach Poly baseball team. The Jackrabbits again won in a walk-off on Friday afternoon, storming Bohl Diamond at Blair Field for the third time this season to celebrate their fourth walk-off win of the year.
This time it was junior Max Pemberton who drove in the winning run, bringing classmate Nate Berumen home from second base in the bottom of the seventh inning.
For context, the Jackrabbits now have more walk-off wins (4) than losses (3) this season, and that’s helped them continue the most successful stretch in program history. Thanks to Lakewood’s win over Millikan in the nightcap at Blair Field, Poly has officially clinched a share of the Moore League crown, giving the Jackrabbits three titles in the past four seasons.
“I’m so proud of these guys,” said Poly’s interim head coach Curtis Thompson. “In the last inning, I told them we’ve got three outs left with our last at-bats and we’re gonna come out swinging. One guy, one hit at a time, and that’s what we did.”
The turnaround has been remarkable from a disappointing 2022 season which saw the defending champion Jackrabbits finish in fourth place in the Moore League. But clearly this team has a certain je ne sais quoi, and a flair for the dramatic. After falling behind 3-0 in the third inning, that’s when the Jackrabbits flipped the switch.
“I mean, this is our fourth walk-off of the season,” said UC Irvine-bound senior Lucas Scott, who tossed a complete game on the mound. “We know what it feels like to be down. We’re a very consistent team, and after that third inning, we just locked in. We were like, ‘Okay, this team’s here to do business, and we are too.’ … We really just played with as much confidence as we could and it really showed.”
Wilson jumped on top with a three-spot in the top of the third, benefitting from some uncharacteristic defensive stumbles from the Jackrabbits. The Bruins were able to score on a wild pitch, then an RBI single from Taylor Kirk and a run-scoring double from Gavin Piechota. Two of the three runs were unearned, but the Bruins made some legit contact in the inning and put themselves in a position to win the game.
Scott was locked in from there, however, retiring the next 8 Bruins in order and facing the minimum over the final four frames. He allowed 3 hits in his 7 innings of work, with 3 walks and 6 strikeouts.
“Scott was humble today,” said Thompson of his senior leader. “I saw the look in his eyes, nothing affected him. We made a couple errors, but I always tell them, tt’s a part of baseball. It’s how you bounce back after that, because the ball will find you and give you another chance. And we took advantage of every opportunity that Wilson gave us and we came out on top with that.”
Sebastian Byrd was again a big spark plug for the Poly offense, scoring each of Poly’s first two runs in innings four and six. The Byrd Man drew a one-out walk in the fourth, but ended up taking two bases as the ball trickled toward the backstop. He would later score on an RBI groundout from Marcus O’Keith to make it 3-1 Wilson. Piechota did a nice job out of the Wilson bullpen on Friday, getting a key strikeout to strand two runners in scoring position, then retiring the top of Poly’s lineup 1-2-3 in the fifth.
In the bottom of the sixth inning, Byrd ripped a one-out double to left, and was promptly brought home on an RBI single from Yahir Torres, who was 3/3 on the afternoon. That brought Poly within a run, and well within striking distance of some more seventh inning magic.
Pinch-hitter Isaac Holder got the rally started with a one-out single, with speedster Jordan Malau’ulu brought in as a pinch runner. His speed at first forced a balk by Wilson to move into scoring position for Berumen at the plate. The junior smacked a single through the left side, allowing Malau’ulu to bring home the tying run. Two weeks ago, Berumen had the game-winning RBI to beat Millikan, but this time he drove in the tying run, getting the chance to score the winning run himself this time.
“It’s just as fun,” said Berumen of scoring the winning run. “I had my teammate up there, Max Pemberton, I knew my guy was gonna come through. He’s a dog, he’s been a dog since freshman year, and I knew he was gonna hit a walk-off, man. I just knew it.”
After a single by Scott, the stage was set for Pemberton with runners at first and second with one out. The sweet-swinging lefty was looking fastball, got one, and sent a screamer into the right field corner to win the game.
“Pressure is a privilege,” said Pemberton after delivering the walk-off. “All our guys there, they execute under pressure. We all want the W, we all work together in those moments, especially the dugout, I love the dugout energy … This is a great comeback for our team, and we’re just excited to try to go undefeated.”
If the Jackrabbits can go 3-0 next week against Cabrillo, Lakewood and Jordan, they could become the first team in recent memory to compile a 12-0 Moore League record. A feat not even accomplished by the 2007 Wilson Bruins on their way to a national championship.
Poly will be the home team for just one of those games, when they face Lakewood next Thursday back at Blair Field. The odds of another walk-off are unlikely, but it almost feels regular for this group as they continue to put together a record-setting season.