CANYON – It was a heavyweight fight for the ages.
Foreman vs. Lyle.
Ali vs. Frazier.
Tarleton vs. Kingsville.
The Lone Star Conference rivals traded blows for nine innings in the league’s tournament semifinals before Ruben Rodriguez landed the final jab with a walk-off single in the ninth inning to break a 20-20 tie and keep Tarleton’s playoff hopes alive in an epic thriller at Wilder Park Friday afternoon.
Tarleton needs to win the Lone Star Conference Championship Tournament to earn an automatic berth into the NCAA national playoffs, which will be announced next week. The Texans improved to 34-15 on the season.
Kingsville struck first with a four-run first inning before Tarleton’s Blake Adams got the offense rolling with a double to lead off the game before moving to third on a wild pitch and scoring on a throwing error for the only run of the inning.
While Nathan Hickey kept the Javelinas off the board in the second and third, Tarleton kept chipping with two in the second on a two-run homer from Adams. In the third, Tarleton put up a four spot on a two-run homer by Francisco Rodriguez and back-to-back RBI singles from Adams and Elvin Alamo to give Tarleton a 7-4 lead after three.
Kingsville answered with another four-spot in the top of the fourth to take their second lead of the game at 8-7, but Tarleton answered in the bottom half with a four-spot of their own – beginning with a leadoff double from Luke Morton. Jared McCarver brought him around with an RBI single before Jake Hasbrouck unloaded on a two-run home run that cleared the Wilder Park scoreboard. Hunter Hudson rounded out the inning with a sacrifice fly to make it an 11-8 game.
The three-run lead turned into a three-run deficit after a six-run top of the fifth from Kingsville, but Tarleton kept clawing.
Jared McCarver got two back in the fifth with a two-run homer and, after Conner Fletcher put up a goose egg in the top of the sixth, Tarleton got the other four back in the sixth starting with yet another two-run home run from Blake Adams. An RBI double from Ruben Rodriguez and an RBI fielder’s choice from Francisco Rodriguez capped off the inning and put Tarleton on top 17-14 heading into the final third of the game.
Kingsville got two in the seventh while Tarleton got one on an RBI sacrifice fly by Adams to send the game into the eighth with Tarleton on top 18-16.
The Javelinas put up their third four-run inning of the game in the eighth to take a 20-18 lead, but a two-run deficit with two outs in the eighth inning wasn’t enough to keep the Texans down. Francisco Rodriguez kept the inning alive with a two-out, full-count walk before Hasbrouck singled up the middle.
Tyler Fowler doubled off the left-center wall to complete the two-out rally and send the game into the ninth inning tied 20-20.
Eddie Avila came out of the bullpen and shut down Kingsville before Adams led off the ninth with a double. He moved to third on a bunt single from Elvin Alamo before Ruben Rodriguez ended the game with the RBI walk-off.
Elvin Alamo went 6-7 at the plate in the game, becoming the first player in program history with six hits in a single game. Meanwhile, Blake Adams went 5-5 in the leadoff spot with four runs scored and six RBI. Adams and Alamo combined for 11 hits, five runs, and seven RBI in the game.
Hasbrouck enjoyed a career day with a 4-6 effort and four runs scored while Jared McCarver and Ruben Rodriguez each boasted three-hit performances. Fowler had two hits while Luke Morton had one to round out the 25-hit attack.
Eddie Avila earned the win on the mound with an inning of scoreless work and a strikeout.
Tarleton will play the winner of West Texas A&M and Eastern New Mexico today at 3 p.m. for the Lone Star Conference Tournament Championship.