Highlands Ranch, Colorado was the walk-off capital of baseball on Sunday. Offensive powerhouses Thunder Academy and the Colorado Lumberjacks went head-to-head in what was expected to be a thrilling set of two game seven innings doubleheaders under warm, but windy, conditions at Rock Canyon High School.
Both teams started their scoring with small-ball and aggressive base-running, something the league has seen a good share of so far this season. Each team scored in their first at bats, courtesy of players base-stealing. The first runs came from leadoff hitters Jonah Cox for the Thunder and Jake Barber for the Lumberjacks. Each team then traded runs in the second and third innings.
Garret Shriver worked the Thunder through six full innings surrendering 13 hits. But the big RBI for the Lumberjacks did not come till the fifth inning, when left fielder Quincy Miller hit an opposite field two-run RBI double to left field. This gave the Lumberjacks a 4-2 lead.
Only Lumberjacks starter Carson Brown who pitched them through the game, failed to shut the door in the top of the seventh. After walking three batters two runs came across to score and tie the game thanks to a wild pitch, two steals (one resulting in scoring on an error by the catcher), and an RBI groundout by Bryce Zimmerer.
Gabe Atkins came in for relief and kept the Thunder from scoring anymore runs. This gave the Lumberjacks a chance to redeem themselves by winning it in walk-off fashion, which they did. Cleanup hitting first baseman Elliott Hermann launched a two-run homer down the left field line to give the Lumberjacks a 6-4 walk-off victory in Game 1.
Game 2 saw a very different type of start, but little did either team anticipate that hours later it would end in the same way as Game 1. Thunder Academy took an early 4-0 lead thanks to solid RBI hits and timely base-running by Zimmerer, JuCo All-American designated hitter Josh Cameron, and Jackson Syring in the first three innings. But the Lumberjacks quickly responded as their bats came to life in the bottom of the third. Elliott Hermann came through with a major two out RBI single in the bottom of the third to bring the score down to 4-3.
Lumberjacks tied it 4-4 in the bottom of the fourth but the Thunder responded by putting the Lumberjacks in another hole, down 7-4 in the bottom of the seventh.
What kept the Lumberjacks going despite being down?
“I’d say our resiliency,” said Game 2’s winning pitcher Isaac Hayen. “We’re a close-knit group of guys, and we like to play for each other and I think that’s a big thing. We play for the guy next to us, not just I, it’s we.”
The team effort and resilience became apparent late. The Lumberjacks were one out away from dropping Game 2 in the bottom of the seventh, when Isaac Smith walked and shortstop Colton Chase popped a two-run homer to right field. This was followed by a game-tying RBI base hit by Craig Kinny to send the game to extras. Smith kept hope alive again for the Lumberjacks. After Thunder Academy took an 8-7 lead by executing a squeeze play in the top of the eighth, Smith came up clutch in the bottom of the eighth, tying the game on an RBI single.
In the bottom of the 11th inning with the game still tied at 8-8 Smith came up big a third time, capping off his clutch night with the ultimate bomb, a walk-off home run down the right field line to finally send everyone home.
A long day of base-running frenzies and offensive flashes concluded in unprecedented fashion, with two walk off homers.