Gratton’s walk off homer pushes Owls past Golden Panthers 6-5
Florida Atlantic enjoyed a comfortable 5-1 lead over Florida International (31-21, 17-12) heading into the top of the eighth inning of Friday night, but soon found themselves tied as the Golden Panthers exploded for four runs.
However, Colby Gratton’s walk off homerun in the ninth gave FAU a 6-5 victory in game two of the series while putting the Owls just one win away from the program’s first Sun Belt Conference Championship.
In a strategy move by Coach John McCormack, Gratton wasn’t scheduled to play in the game as Nathan Pittman, who hits better against right handed pitchers, got the nod in left field.
But Gratton was called on to replace Pittman in the seventh, and later shined in the heat of the moment against FIU lefty Corey Polizzano, a former high school teammate, in the ninth.
“He didn’t have such a good at bat his first time against him”, said McCormack. “I didn’t think it (the homerun) was getting out. I didn’t think he got enough of it, but thank God he did.”
Mike Gipson tossed his way out of trouble in the first and second innings when the Golden Panthers placed runners in scoring position but came up empty handed on both occasions.
He would fall behind again in the third, giving up a single and walk, before Yoandy Barroso’s two out RBI double accounted for the first run of the night to give FIU a 1-0 lead.
Touting just one hit for the contest, the Owls finally cracked FIU starter Scott Rembisz in the bottom of the fourth when Mike Albaladejo’s bloop single ignited a four run effort for Florida Atlantic (32-20 , 20-9) which was capped off by Sean Bukovich’s two RBI double.
FAU added another in the bottom of the fifth on David Cassidy’s SAC fly which scored Albaladejo to move ahead 5-1.
Gipson had settled down through the seventh but found trouble immediately afterwards.
With his pitch count topping 100, he walked his career high seventh batter to start the eighth inning. An error by Nick DelGuidice then put two aboard for FIU and set up Pablo Bermudez’s double which scored two runs.
Ryan Bernal was tapped out of the bullpen for the Owls in hopes of ending the rally, but surrendered three hits as the Golden Panthers notched two more and evened the score at five a piece to put a victory in question.
But Bernal struck “Gold”, retiring the side in order to begin the ninth, and Gratton followed his performance with his third homerun of the series, in walk off fashion, to give FAU the win.
“I saw it go over, and it was a good feeling”, said Gratton.
Bernal (6-2) earned the victory for the Owls, while Polizzano (2-4) took the loss for the Golden Panthers.
Bukovich and Cassidy each went 2-of-4, with two RBI, for FAU.
Series deciding game three is slated for a 1:00 p.m. start tomorrow at FAU Baseball Stadium and will be preceded by a ceremony to honor the Owls' senior class.