Baseball Long Beach Poly

CIF Baseball: Pemberton Delivers Another Walk-Off As Long Beach Poly Beats Flintridge Prep

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.

The Baseball Gods are turning skeptics into believers during this Long Beach Poly baseball season. One game after another, the unbelievable has become the expectation, and these magic Jackrabbits aren’t done yet.

Believe it or not–and how could you not at this point?–the Jackrabbits again won a playoff game in walk-off fashion, and again it was junior Max Pemberton at the bottom of the dogpile. His RBI single in the bottom of the eighth inning brought home the only run in Tuesday’s 1-0 victory over Flintridge Prep on Bohl Diamond at Blair Field, sending Poly to the CIF-SS Division 3 quarterfinals on Friday.

“The Baseball Gods are blessing me,” said the anointed Pemberton after yet another game-winner. “They’re putting me in situations where I’ve got to compete and battle and I’m coming out victorious, so it feels good.”

Not only is this Pemberton’s second walk-off hit in as many games for Poly in the playoffs, it’s remarkably his third walk-off in Poly’s last six games. Less than three weeks ago, he drilled a walk-off single to beat Wilson. Last Friday, his inside-the-park home run against Beckman punched Poly’s ticket into round two. 

After Tuesday’s heroics, Pemberton now has as many walk-off hits in the last three weeks as his team has losses for the entire season.

“I think I’ve hit more walk-offs this season than I have in my entire life, so it’s a little weird,” Pemberton admitted. “I’m not used to being the guy to do it, but yeah, each one builds, like there’s more pressure in each situation. With a one-run game, it’s pretty fun when you get to score the only run in the game to win.”

“Max is on another level of ‘locked in’ right now,” said Poly head coach Brent Lavoie. “And the bigger the moment, the more pressure the bigger the result that Pemberton comes with. It’s exciting to watch him play, I’m glad I get to coach him.”

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Before we got to extra innings, it was junior Jacob Mason who was a key standout for Poly on the mound. The righthander pitched well and got great support from his defense as he twirled 6.1 innings of scoreless ball, working around six hits with no walks and eight strikeouts. He had six K’s through the first three innings, and was able to strand two runners in scoring position in both the fourth and the sixth frames, helped out by some great picks at first base by Sebastian Byrd.

“Yeah, it definitely starts with Jacob Mason just being a boss on the mound there. It was a big playoff start for him,” said Lavoie. “He hasn’t been the ‘big game starter’ and in the biggest game of the year, we hand him the ball and he does that. I feel bad that he didn’t get the win, but man did he pitch well enough to get the win. He just kept their guys off balance all day.”

Poly has relied on senior Lucas Scott to start most of their key games this season, but Mason was able to deliver in a big way on Tuesday. Scott was used in relief to cover the final five outs, but was limited on pitches after throwing 110 in last Friday’s win.

“I was just worried about going out there and doing my job, and helping this team win,” said Mason. “That’s been my biggest goal the whole year. So it’s big for me in my first playoff game to come in and pitch and be lights out like that. I’ve just been dreaming about this for years and it’s really a dream come true.”

Poly’s offense struggled against Flintridge Prep starter Rowan Schaeffer, who lasted 5.1 innings allowing just two hits and no walks. The soft-tossing sophomore had just two strikeouts, but kept Poly’s hitters off-balance and nine of his 16 outs via ground balls.

The Jackrabbits got their best chance to score in the bottom of the sixth, when Marcus O’Keith reached on an error and was sacrificed to second base. After an intentional walk to Scott and an unintentional walk to Pemberton, the bases were loaded with just one out. That’s when the Wolves turned to senior ace Max Brunngraber, who struck out the next two batters in relief to strand the bases loaded and keep the game tied after six frames.

Flintridge Prep thought they’d taken the lead in the top of the seventh, but a controversial call went Poly’s way to keep things scoreless. Graham DesHotel was on second base with two outs, and attempted a steal of third. Pemberton’s throw from behind the plate was uncharacteristically wild, allowing DesHotel to race home and score the go-ahead run. However, a few seconds after he crossed home plate, the home plate umpire called interference on the Wolves’ batter, calling him out and ending the inning with the run coming off the board.

Pemberton said after the game that he was attempting to throw behind the batter, who was hitting from the right side and thus on the third base side of home plate. As the batter moved backwards his bat ended up in Pemberton’s way, and the catcher’s hand hit the bat mid-throw, causing it to go past third base and into foul territory. Video replay shows the batter retreating with both feet, which was deemed by the home plate umpire as interference with Pemberton’s throw.

“Max does a good job getting behind guys,” said Lavoie on the interference on Pemberton’s throw to third. “That hasn’t happened all season, because it’s something that we work on quite consistently. You’ve got to clear the hitter. He does have the right to stand in the box there, but I just felt he drifted. And that little drift was enough to cause that interference.”

In the bottom of the eighth, Poly leadoff man Nate Berumen started a rally with a one-out single to right, then promptly moved to second base on a wild pitch. After Scott scorched a lineout to left, Pemberton stepped in for the grand finale. He barreled up a two-strike pitch into the right field corner, allowing Berumen to score easily. Remarkably, it was Poly’s sixth walk-off win of the season, and the fourth to come on Bohl Diamond at Blair Field.

The bad news for Poly is that they won’t have another walk-off in the quarterfinals–the Jackrabbits will be on the road at Yorba Linda on Friday. 

But judging by how the Baseball Gods have repeatedly smiled upon this Poly team, Yorba Linda should probably get some prayers up this week.

VIDEO: Long Beach Poly vs. Flintridge Prep, CIF Baseball
Tyler Hendrickson
Tyler Hendrickson was born and raised in Long Beach, and started covering sports in his hometown in 2010. After five years as a sportswriter, Tyler joined the athletic department at Long Beach State University in 2015. He spent more than four years in the athletic communications department, working primarily with the Dirtbags baseball program. Tyler also co-authored of The History of Long Beach Poly: Scholars & Champions.