The Fremont Firebirds varsity baseball squad got off to an inauspicious start Friday afternoon, but the home squad eventually walked off a 10-run-rule victory over the Pinewood Panthers. Fremont starting pitcher Makaio Mullins was sharp from the first pitch, but the defense behind him was shaky to begin the game and the offensive support was lacking early.
After a clean top of the first for Mullins, Fremont had a promising bottom of the first going until leadoff man Connor Armstrong was thrown out at third base, capping off a rare 5-3-5 double play. The Firebirds managed to squeak home one run in the inning, but they should have scored at least two.
Mullins followed suit with a shut-down second inning, but the Firebirds would go scoreless in their second at bats. That set the table for the Panthers to even things up at one. A towering pop up in shallow right field should have been caught but fell in for a hit to give the Panthers first and second with only one out. The following batter hit a sharp grounder toward the second base bag. Armstrong fielded it cleanly from his shortstop spot and stepped on second, but his throw to first was in the dirt and got past first baseman Tyler Gray. The errant throw allowed the tying run to score.
All tied up at 1-1 going into the bottom of the third inning was not where Fremont hoped they would be, as the Firebirds were clearly the stronger team.
“We just can’t keep waiting until the fifth or sixth inning to get things going,” chimed Fremont Skipper Pete Hernandez. “We have done that a couple times already this year.”
Fremont’s offense wouldn’t wake up in the third, but they did manage to get their one-run lead back, albeit with a lot of help from the Panthers. Gray would reach on an error, and after a bloop single by Jay Hernandez, both Kai Daron and Oliver Chang were hit by pitches, forcing home a run.
After a second-straight, shut-down inning from Mullins, the Fremont offense finally broke out. Armstrong smoked a line drive into right-center field. The Panthers center fielder made a valiant effort to make a full-extension dive, but the ball would bounce and roll past him into the gap. Even after having been thrown out at third earlier in the game, Armstrong didn’t hesitate to take the extra 90 feet, stretching a double into a triple. That aggressiveness paid off.
“I just had a plan to be aggressive, I kind of knew this team didn’t necessarily have the best arms in the outfield,” admitted Armstrong. “Just trying to force them to make tough plays.”
Number two hitter Abirham Balakrishnan smoked a single up the middle to double the Firebirds’ lead to 3-1. After Balakrishnan stole second, a misplay in shallow right field on a pop up by Mullins allowed Balakrishnan to come around to score to make it 4-1. The Firebirds would tack on two more runs in the inning, the final of which came on a deep sacrifice fly to right field from Chang.
In the fifth inning, Fremont dropped the hammer. The Firebirds scored five more times for a 10-run, walk-off win, 11-1 the final. Armstrong picked up another RBI single, while Chang ended the game with a two-run double.