EVERETT — Nothing was as it seemed Sunday afternoon at Everett Memorial Stadium.
The AquaSox squandered a seventh-inning lead, then engaged in a see-saw battle with Eugene before catcher Brandon Bantz launched a two-out, two-run walk-off home run to give Everett a 9-7 Northwest League win.
Bantz, an unlikely hero making his eighth appearance for Everett, thrilled the crowd of 2,855 when he broke a 7-7 tie with two outs in the ninth inning. The walk-off shot was Bantz’s second home run of the day and his second of the season. His first was a one-out, solo shot to left in the sixth inning.
“It was a changeup,” Bantz said of the delivery from Eugene left-handed pitcher Nick Greenwood. “The guy (Greenwood) had a pretty good fastball and that’s kind of what I was sitting on and he threw it middle. I tried to get the head (of the bat) on it and I was lucky enough to hit it out.”
For a while it looked as if Everett (30-19) was going to cruise to an easy victory. The AquaSox took a 4-1 lead into the seventh inning with starting pitcher Chris Kirkland yielding just one solo home run in the third inning to that point.
But the game turned interesting as Kirkland tired after striking out the first batter of the inning. Eugene (21-28) designated hitter Nate Freiman doubled off the base of the wall in center field and Kirkland hit Eugene catcher Emmanuel Quiles before first baseman Jason Hagerty roped a run-scoring double down the right field line. Left fielder Matt Vern, who homered off Kirkland in the third, tied the game with a two-run single to left field.
In an instant, Eugene claimed a 5-4 lead and Kirkland was pinned for the loss.
“I think he was just trying to do a little too much in that situation,” Bantz said.
“I think what happened was in that seventh inning he (Kirkland) got a little too tired,” Everett manager John Tamargo said. “He was out there one hitter too long. I thought he threw a great game, but maybe I just left him in there a hair too long.”
Kirkland gave up five runs on four hits in 61/3 innings; he struck out five and walked three.
AquaSox first baseman Gerardo Avila continued his recent string of hot hitting, as well as his current trend of being thrown out trying to stretch for extra-base hits.
Avila tied the score in the seventh with a two-out single that scored center fielder Matt Cerione from third base. Avila was tagged out trying for a double, but Cerione scored before the final out was recorded.
After falling behind 7-5 in the eighth inning, Everett caught a break when some two-out luck rolled its way. Or, more appropriately, when the ball rolled out of Eugene catcher Quiles’ line of sight.
With two out and runners on second and third, shortstop Anthony Phillips drilled an RBI single through a hole in the right side of the infield. Following a pitching change, Cerione loaded the bases when he reached on an infield single.
Second baseman Hawkins Gebbers came up empty on a swinging third strike, but Quiles couldn’t corral the ball and lost sight of it. Left fielder Jose Rivero raced home to tie the game 7-7 as Quiles and Eugene pitcher Greenwood raced for the ball. Phillips tried to capitalize on the confusion but was tagged out trying to score from second base.
“It seems like the last two games, every time we try to do something we mess it up,” Tamargo said. “But the only thing I can tell you is these guys keep battling.”
Everett’s Mario Martinez and Avila hit back-to-back singles to start the ninth, but James Jones grounded into an unfortunate and, keeping the theme, interesting double play. Eugene second baseman Vincent Belnome couldn’t handle Jones’ well-struck grounder, but the infielder booted the ball directly to shortstop Kevin Winn who calmly turned the double play.
With Martinez at third, Bantz stepped in and finished the game.
“We swung the bats well,” Bantz said. “This was an overall team win and something we desperately needed.”