MESA, Ariz. -- Josh Walker's second RBI of the day — a one-out single to score Nick Iwasa from second base — broke a two-all tie in the fourth and Sacramento State steadily pulled away, avenging an opening day tournament loss to UT Rio Grande Valley with a 9-5 victory to eliminate the Vaqueros to open day three of the Western Athletic Conference Tournament on Friday morning at Hohokam Stadium in Mesa, Ariz.
The Hornets improved to 32-25 overall and advanced to face unbeaten West Division rival New Mexico State later in the day at 4 p.m. Sacramento State, which took two of the three regular season meetings with the Aggies earlier this year, will need to defeat NMSU twice in order to book a trip to the tournament championship game on Saturday (May 27) night.
UTRGV ended its season at 33-25 overall with the loss, making it close with a pair of runs in the ninth before running out of steam.
Eight of the nine Hornet starters finished with hits on the day, led by junior Martin Vincelli-Simard, who finished 3-for-5 with a run scored, a double, and a pair of RBI, to log his eighth multi-hit game of the year — seven of those coming since May 8. Walker was one of three Sacramento State hitters with two hits on the day, joined in the multi-hit club by Jeffery Heard and Josh Rolling, all ending the day 2-for-4 at the plate.
Sophomore right-hander Noah Takacs was solid in his first start of the tournament, allowing a pair of runs on three hits over 4.1 before giving way to Max Pettey (4-1) in the fifth, who was charged with a run on two hits and a pair of strikeouts over 2.2 innings of relief. Kevin Haynes closed out the contest, allowing two runs on four hits over the final two innings, striking out the final batter of the game with a pair on to advance his team.
Back-to-back RBI singles by Walker and Rolling in the second staked the Hornets to the early lead — the third time in as many tournament games that Sacramento State has jumped on the scoreboard first. UTRGV tied things up with single runs in the third and fourth, but the Hornets rallied in the home half of the latter to take the lead for good.
Iwasa's double with one out brought Walker up again, who promptly dropped a single into center to easily score Iwasa for the 3-2 advantage. Two batters later, Jorge Bojorquez rolled a single through the right side, giving Sacramento State a two-run lead as Walker scored from second after grabbing an extra 90 feet on his single.
A Vincelli-Simard one-out double in the fifth set the stage for two more runs as Steven Moretto singled up the middle to make it 5-2, and a single by Heard put runners at the corners for Iwasa, whose fly ball to center was enough to score Moretto for the four-run lead.
The Vaqueros clawed a run back in the sixth, but Moretto's 12th sacrifice fly of the year in the seventh got the score back and Sacramento State tacked on two more in the eighth on Vincelli-Simard's single that deflected into centerfield off a sliding UTRGV shortstop for a 9-3 advantage.
Drama ensued in the ninth as the Vaqueros mounted a last at-bat rally, scoring on a Jacob Hirsh home run and a Brandon Pimentel single, but Haynes stopped the bleeding quickly with a strikeout of Brett Cain with the tying run on deck to end the game. Cain drove home the go-ahead run with double in the eighth inning of the tournament opener won by UTRGV, 2-1, back on Wednesday.
With his two hits, Heard recorded his 15th multi-hit game of the season, good for third on the team behind Bojorquez (18) and Dawsen Bacho (16), while Rolling's two-hit day was his 11th multi-hit performance fof 2022. With his two RBI, Moretto collected his eighth multi-RBI game, followed by the seventh of the year from Vincelli-Simard, and Walker's third.
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