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.
It could’ve all been so simple, but that’s not how this Long Beach Poly Baseball season has gone. Remarkably, improbably, and even inexplicably … the Jackrabbits did it again.
For the fifth time in the 2023 season, Long Beach Poly won in walk-off fashion. This time it was the postseason edition, as the Jackrabbits defeated Beckman High, 7-6, in their opening round game of the CIF-SS Division 3 playoffs at Joe Hicks Memorial Field.
Junior Max Pemberton was the hero in the bottom of the seventh inning, as his inside-the-park home run was the game winner for Poly. The Jackrabbits had just surrendered four runs in controversial fashion during the top half of the seventh, but whenever the green & gold is the last team up to bat, they’re damn tough to beat.
“That’s kind of the theme of this team, adversity makes us better,” said head coach Brent Lavoie after the win. “And we respond to it. You can’t control a lot of things that happen to you, but you have so much control about how you respond and what you do about it. This squad, that’s our fifth walk-off win. They’re battle tested, the horses have been trained up to go out there and go to war and you saw that finale there. That’s what these guys do.”
It was just two weeks ago that Pemberton delivered a game-winning hit on Bohl Diamond at Blair Field to cap off a comeback win over Wilson. This time, he restored Poly’s advantage after a wild sequence of events earlier in the inning, adding another insane chapter to this Poly season–which will continue for at least another week.
“This is a great team and I love playing with my boys,” Pemberton said, still out of breath from another wild celebration. “We just have a special magic to us. I’d be ecstatic to have another walk-off win, but I mean, I’d rather have some shutout, blowout games. I might need a little break.”
The final two innings were a roller-coaster ride to be sure, with a total of nine runs scored between the two teams. Poly entered the top of the 6th leading 4-0, but that changed quickly.
Beckman was able to score a pair of runs in the 6th, scoring on a balk by Poly starter Lucas Scott, then an RBI single from Wyland Okamoto. The Patriots nearly kept the rally going, but Poly’s Sebastian Morales made a terrific catch in left field to end the Beckman threat.
The Jackrabbits answered back in the bottom half of the inning, as Sebastian Byrd drilled an RBI double, collecting his second RBI of the day. The Byrd Man would later score on a perfectly executed squeeze play, as pinch-hitter Fernando Castaneda dropped down the bunt and earned an RBI off the bench.
Scott went out to finish the game in the top of the 7th, but got into some trouble after a one-out single and a walk. The next batter nearly rolled into a game-ending double play, but the throw to first was just a bit wide.
Beckman’s Isaiah Kapur then hit a flare to right field that fell just in front of Poly right fielder Marcus O’Keith, making it a 6-3 Poly lead, still with two outs. At that point, Scott had reached his pitch limit and would have to leave the game with one out left to get. The UC Irvine signee struck out 8 batters and was 2-for-4 at the plate with a run scored. Scott received a loud ovation from the Poly crowd as he walked off the mound.
In came closer Jordan Malau’ulu, who did his job getting a grounder to second base. The throw went to Byrd at first, who was retreating to the bag after initially moving toward the grounder. He tap-danced around the bag as Beckman’s batter Ken Tomitaka was arriving at first, and the umpire initially called the out, ending the game.
But shortly after Poly’s dugout emptied and the celebration began, the umpires quickly put a stop to it. They signaled for the teams to leave the field and a conference ensued. Ultimately, the call at first was changed from an out call to interference, and the game was resumed with Beckman now trailing 6-4, with the potential tying run now at first base.
“He said that our first baseman was obstructing the runner’s way to the base,” said Lavoie after the game, echoing the umpire’s explanation. “He said that by the time he made the out call he realized that there was an obstruction there, and that’s why the guy didn’t get to the base. Baseball happened, it’s weird; it’s still a head scratcher. But hey, it opened the door for us to have (the walk-off).”
Once play resumed, Beckman did its part with back-to-back RBI singles from Ashton Kanegae and Okamoto to tie the game, sending the Patriots spilling out of their dugout in celebration. Four consecutive batters reached base with Beckman down to its final out–a comeback that left the Poly crowd stunned, but not discouraged. Once Jae Simon finally recorded the final out in the top of the 7th, the stage was set.
“This team’s adversity built,” said Scott, the heart and soul of this Poly team. “We honestly do better under pressure, like when we’re down 2-3 runs, we always know we’re going to come back. There’s never been a game where this entire team didn’t know we’re going to win. When (Beckman) didn’t take the lead in the seventh, I knew for sure. Our whole dugout came in running, we weren’t even trippin’. I mean, we’re built for this. Honestly, we’re just built for this.”
Scott led off in the bottom of the 7th and hit a frozen rope right at the center fielder. After his tough-luck AB, Pemberton stepped into the spotlight and delivered. After falling behind 0-2, he crushed a ball to deep right center and was off to the races.
“I saw (the centerfielder) turn his back, and so I put on the burners,” Pemberton recalled. “I was rounding second and I was thinking I would end up on third, we’re gonna have a guy in scoring position with one out. But then I saw the whole dugout jumping up and down and Lavoie waving his arm, so I just kept on busting it. That was scary. I was nervous I was gonna get thrown out. But thank god I didn’t.”
Earlier in the game, the Jackrabbits took the lead with three runs in the 2nd inning. Byrd opened the scoring with a sacrifice fly to score Simon, then two batters later Marcus O’Keith battled through a 10-pitch at-bat before lining a two-out, two-run single into left. Scott then helped his cause in the third inning with a leadoff single, later scoring on a wild pitch to put his team up 4-0.
Poly’s playoff journey continues next Tuesday, when they will host Flintridge Prep in the second round. Start time, location, and walk-off hero have yet to be determined.