Although senior members of the Gonzaga baseball team were forced to miss the start of Sunday’s D.C. State Athletic Association title game against St. Albans because of graduation, they managed to get to Nationals Park in time to witness the most unusual events surrounding the Eagles’ 2-1 victory.
Controversy was just starting to swirl when Ryan Donnellan scaled the roof of the third base dugout, still laced into the dress shoes he wore for the commencement ceremony. Shortly after Donnellan made his hasty entrance in the bottom of the sixth inning, Eagles junior Nate Grisius laced a single to right field, and Amari Newman rounded third in hopes of scoring the go-ahead run in a 1-1 ballgame. The throw from right field was on target, however, and Bulldogs catcher Isaac Goldman applied the tag before Newman could cross the plate.
But after deliberation and debate among two head coaches and six umpires, it was determined that the St. Albans third baseman obstructed Newman’s path. The question was when did the interference occur?
“Well, there were a couple different explanations,” Gonzaga Coach Andy Bradley said. “The first one was that he ran into them before our runner got the base, which meant he had to stay at third — which is not correct. Then they talked about it and said he would’ve scored anyway, so they awarded him home plate. That’s what the fuss was about.”
Newman enjoyed one of the most bizarre outings in recent Gonzaga baseball memory. He scored the Eagles’ first run after reaching base on a routine flyball to right field that the Bulldogs player appeared to snag, only to bobble and drop at the last moment. Then he was waved home on an apparent balk by St. Albans starter Daniel Armagh, only to be recalled to third on his way to the dugout. He eventually scored on a throwing error.
At least where the game-winning obstruction call is concerned, Newman is sure it happened.
“I saw [him] in my way, and I just kept running and I ran into him,” Newman said. “Then I wasn’t sure if they saw it, so I just kept going, but thankfully the umpire did see it. One of the people took a picture, and you can see me just running into him.”
Despite lengthy protests, it wasn’t the interference call that infuriated Bulldogs Coach R.J. Johnsen most. He took exception to the manner in which Newman made it into scoring position. What Johnsen thought was an easy grounder off the end of Newman’s bat was called dead as a foul ball off his foot. On the next pitch, Newman legged out an infield single on what was a close play at first.
“In my 30 years of playing baseball,” Johnsen said, “I’ve never seen a five-hop groundball hit pretty hard with the runner sprinting out of the box be called a foul ball.
“It was one of the worst foul ball calls I’ve ever seen. Then I thought he was out on the next play. It’s hard to get one guy out three times in one inning.”
Gonzaga sophomore Will Thomas earned both the win and tournament MVP honors after striking out six in a complete game effort. With many of the team’s leaders away at graduation — a decision Bradley and the team supported — it fell upon underclassmen like Thomas to get it done.
“All year our seniors have been a huge part, and we tried to come out and win it for them,” Thomas said. “They were the reason we were able to make it this far, so we just tried to do it for them, win it for them.”