Julia Kastner just knew.
“I never thought we were going to lose once,” the sophomore rightfielder said. “I was just like, ‘Alright, well I guess this is the inning that we’re going to win now.'”
It took nine innings but Kastner and the Owls (23-22, 10-5 Atlantic 10 Conference) felt the time was right in the ninth to finish off conference foe Rhode Island (9-27, 2-10 A-10).
Kastner took the first pitch she saw after starting off 1-for-4 and shot it over the leftfield fence for a walk-off two-run homerun to win it 9-7 in dramatic fashion.
Temple needed not one, not two, but five long balls to put away the Rams in what turned out to be a slugfest.
But Kastner wasn’t the only one to come up clutch.
Trailing 7-5 after a disastrous four-run top of the sixth, the Owls were down to two outs left in the bottom of the seventh when senior designated player Kayla Cook stepped up to the plate. Coming in with a .178 average Cook needed to do something with a runner on to keep the game alive.
She took the first pitch she liked and launched the Owls’ fourth homer of the day.
“I was just looking for my pitch and she threw it, and it just went out,” Cook said. “It was a team effort, so it was nice for everyone to contribute.”
Cook had quite the day, going 3-for-5 with two runs batted in and a run scored. But none was bigger than the two-run shot that sent the game to extras.
“I only have two more weeks of my career so I’m just trying to give it my all,” Cook said.
“Kayla had a day,” coach Joe DiPietro said. “She hasn’t been playing a lot lately, she’s really, really struggled. I know as I was writing the lineup today I’m like, ‘You know what, she’s a senior. She’s been through a lot.’ I feel like I owe her.”
Both teams went down quietly in the first two frames, but a three-run blast by redshirt-senior shortstop Courtney Prendergast gave the rams a 3-0 lead in the third. The Owls answered right back with a solo shot from junior shortstop Sarah Prezioso and a two-run opposite field homer from freshman second baseman Leah Lucas a few batters later in the home half of the third.
But the Rams got another big inning in the sixth. The Owls suddenly lost awareness on defense, as junior catcher Stephanie Pasquale allowed a passed ball to advance a runner, bean a runner stealing second in the helmet that allowed a runner at third to score and the team wasn’t paying attention on another steal attempt at third. Then two bases-loaded singles gave the Rams a 7-3 lead.
Somehow sophomore Jessica Mahoney managed to get out of the inning with no more damage done.
The Owls got two runs back in the bottom of the sixth thanks to a two-run shot by senior centerfielder Ali Robinson, and would tie it up an inning later thanks to Cook’s heroics.
The Owls main power threat, Pasquale, was silent all day, however. The four-hole hitter, and A-10 batting average leader, walked four times while grounding out once on what was clearly a third outside pitch in her third plate appearance. Rhode Island took no chances with her on a day where the rest of the offense had her back.
“I knew it from the first at-bat that she wasn’t going [to get pitched to],” DiPietro said. “She has to understand that people are going to pitch around her.”
But with the game tied heading into extras DiPietro had a decision to make. Mahoney had struggled all game. Despite going the distance entering the eighth inning she had given up eight hits, walked seven and struck out just two. But DiPietro decided to stick with her in the extra frames.
“I just felt it in the gut to stick with her,” DiPietro said. “I don’t know why. She had eight walks. I thought she was around the plate for the majority of them… I just had a gut feeling to leave her in.”
Putting in Cook and keeping Mahoney in paid off for the skipper as Mahoney had a few close calls in the eighth and ninth innings, but came out unscathed both times, just in time for Kastner’s walk-off.
“We only had five other hits,” DiPietro said of the five homers. “That was something we talked about in the locker room before the game, about getting good swings… But like I told them before the game in the locker room, that this time of year, it’s about winning. It was ugly, but it was a win.”
The win keeps the Owls in control of making the A-10 Tournament. With one more game to potentially beat up on the Rams—even though the first game proved tougher than expected—the Owls must next host Massachusetts, who went into the day slightly ahead of the Owls in the standings.
Jake Adams can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @jakeadams520.