LA MIRADA — When asked if Wednesday's come-from-ahead Golden State Athletic Conference loss at Biola may haunt him for a while, Vanguard University baseball coach Rob Pegg said he didn't believe in ghosts.
But the 6-5 setback to the sixth-place Eagles helped make a 5-2 lead and a chance to gain sole possession of third place with just five regular-season conference games remaining, vanish like an apparition in a ninth inning that proved to be frightfully unfortunate for the visitors.
Biola (13-34, 9-22 in conference), which committed five errors, hit into one triple play, two double plays, had one runner thrown out at the plate and another picked off first, scored two in the eighth and two more in the ninth to earn the walk-off triumph.
No. 24-ranked Vanguard (27-18, 18-13) could have risen from a third-place tie to sole possession of third in the GSAC with a win, an outcome that appeared likely most of the game. Instead, the Lions are tied for third with Concordia, which lost to first-place San Diego Christian on Wednesday, and Westmont, which defeated last-place Arizona Christian on Wednesday to rise from fifth place.
Vanguard, which has lost five of its last six games, returns to Biola today for a doubleheader that begins at noon. At stake, along with a season-closing three-game home series with Concordia on April 25-26, is one of four berths into the GSAC postseason tournament.
The Lions never trailed until the game-winning hit, a line-drive single off the bat of Andres Rodriguez that sparked a celebration from the Eagles.
Vanguard led, 1-0, after the first inning and doubled that lead with a run in the fifth, when John Schwer singled to drive in Brandon Sandoval with two outs.
After Biola scored single runs in the fifth and sixth to pull even, the visitors cashed in the Eagles' final error to take a 3-2 advantage. In the eighth inning, senior catcher John Collins launched a two-run home run to left field, his second of the season, to put the Lions up, 5-2.
Lions' starting pitcher Scott Torrey worked into the sixth and left after making an error on a safety squeeze bunt that knotted the score, 2-2.
Another error by a pitcher, this time an errant pickoff throw to first base by junior reliever Jordan Moak in the ninth, helped set the stage for the winning rally.
The Biola ninth began with a double by Johnny Farrington into the left-field corner. Rob Groeschell followed with a single to put runners at the corners off Roberto Johnson, who wound up absorbing the loss.
Before Moak could throw his first pitch, he misfired to first base, allowing the tying run to score and putting the potential winning run at second. A groundout advanced the go-ahead run to third and, after a walk, Rodriguez lined the first pitch delivered by Sam Frakes into left field to ditch his goat horns for the hero label.
Rodriguez, who was three for three and also reached on a walk and by being hit by a pitch, made three errors at third base in the first three innings to contribute to a series of misfortune for the hosts.
Biola had its first batter reach base in each of the final six innings, but an inning-ending double play in the sixth and the aforementioned triple play in the eighth helped Vanguard minimize the damage.
Vanguard senior shortstop Nick Rodda initiated the triple play by retreating to shallow left field and making a sliding over-the-shoulder catch of a blooper off the bat of Boon Farrington. Rodda bobbled the ball briefly while sliding, but sprang to his feet and threw to second base to double off a runner who thought the ball would drop for a single. Second baseman Taylor McKnight then relayed to first to force a similarly duped Eagles baserunner, allowing Vanguard to keep a 5-4 lead.
"Hey, tip your hat to them," Pegg said of the Eagles, who before their recent 4-4 stretch had lost 17 of 18. "They are [gutsy] and they have fought all year. We made a triple play and they came back and answered. They out-competed us after their mistakes and they recovered better than we did, so good job to them."
John Collins and Bret Collins were both two for four to spearhead the Lions' six-hit attack.
Golden State Athletic Conference
Biola 6, Vanguard 5
SCORE BY INNINGS
VU 100 010 120 – 5 6 2
Biola 000 011 022 – 6 11 5
Torrey, McKinnon (6), Johnson (8), Moak (9), Frakes (9) and J. Collins; Diomatich, Castelli (6) and Thorne. W – Castelli, 3-5. L – Johnson, 0-2. 2B – Thorne (B), J. Collins (VU), Rodriguez (B), J. Farrington (B) 2, Gallarda (B). HR – J. Collins (VU).