CORAL GABLES, Fla. – Columbia went toe-to-toe with No. 23 Texas Tech in its NCAA Championship opening round matchup, holding a 2-2 tie heading into the bottom of the ninth, but an RBI walk-off double by Eric Gutierrez gave the Red Raiders the 3-2 victory.
The first three innings were active for both offenses, despite neither team plating a run. Columbia put a pair of runners on in the top of the first and the second, but the Red Raider’s starting hurler, Chris Sadberry, was able to get out of both jams with a ground out and strike out. Texas Tech got things going in the third, loading the bases, but Columbia stater George Thanopoulos was able to get cleanup hitter Eric Gutierrez to fly out to left to end the threat.
The consistent offensive pressure paid off for Columbia in the fourth frame, scoring the game’s first run. With one out and the bases loaded, sophomore Nick Maguire slashed a hard grounder through Sadberry’s legs with shortstop Proudfoot flipping the ball to Burleson to get the force at second, but Maguire legged out the run to first to negate the double play attempt, allowing Aaron Silbar to score from third.
Texas Tech looked to be in position to get that run back quickly, loading the bases with one out in the bottom of the fourth. Proudfoot walked to load the bases, but Thanopoulos was able to get Redman to pop out in foul territory with Fischer making the catch to get the second out. Stephen Smith then hit a ball on a line to left field, but Robb Paller raced in and made the catch to keep the scoreboard on the Red Raider’s line reading zero.
The Red Raiders broke through in the next inning, using a double and home run to jump ahead 2-1. Burleson opened the frame with a double down the left field line, but looked to be stranded there as Columbia reliever got Nelsony and Gutierrez to pop out. Adam Kirsch though took advantage of the opportunity and hit a ball over the left field wall off the scoreboard to put the Red Raiders up by a run.
Columbia fired right back in the top of the sixth, using a John Kinne infield, RBI single to knot the score at 2-2. Paller opened the inning with a single back up the middle, his third single of the game, and moved up to second on a Silbar sacrifice bunt. Paller moved up to third on ball four to Gus Craig that sailed over his head. That prompted a pitching change from Texas Tech with Jonny Drozd replacing Sadberry. After foiling the Lions double steal, tagging Craig in a run down, the Red Raiders were working with two out to Kinne. The Lions’ designated hitter stood in and ripped a grounder off Drozd’s glove, scoring Paller and reaching first safely for the infield single.
The scoring halted from that point, as Drozd and Columbia’s second reliever, lefty Thomas Crispi, settled in. Crispi got some help from his defense in the eighth, as Will Savage started a 4-6-3 double play with one out, to end the frame. It was the third double play of the game for the Lions, marking only the second time this season Columbia has turned a trio of double plays.
The 2-2 tie remained in effect until the bottom of the ninth, when Gutierrez came through with a drive to the right center gap that carried over the Lions’ outfield, allowing pinch runner Zach Davis to score the game-winning run from second.
Paller’s three hits marks the fifth time he’s accomplished that this season, matching Serena for the team-lead in that category. Paller now has 15 multi-hit games this season.
Columbia will be in action Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m. against the loser of the No. 3 Miami versus Bethune-Cookman matchup which is set for first pitch Friday night at 7 p.m. Saturday’s game will be an elimination game.