LUBBOCK — Win or lose today, Howard College Coach Britt Smith can finally say his Hawks are doing what he has been wanting them to do all season long — they are playing as a team.
“This is probably the biggest team effort we've had all year,” he said this morning, hours after his Hawks upended Grayson County College 18-7 to force a winner-take-everything championship game in the Region V Baseball Tournament. “It took a lot of adversity to get them to do it, but they have really come together.”
Howard was to take on Grayson at 1 p.m. today at Dan Law Field on the Texas Tech University campus. It's been a long road to the title game for the Hawks, who had struggled, beating Weatherford 11-10 in the opener, falling to New Mexico 5-1, then defeating Midland 14-13 in 13 innings and Weatherford again 6-1 in 15 innings before Wednesday’s 10-5 victory over New Mexico — setting the stage for the matchup with Grayson last evening.
“Our kids are exhausted. Just exhausted,” said Smith. “If they can muster enough energy, they have one more game with Grayson to win it all. We are behind the 8-ball. Basically, Grayson has played four games and our guys have played eight (with the extra innings). But our kids have been really competitive. They don't want the3 season to end.”
Grayson had given up just two runs in its previous three tournament games before taking the field against Howard on Wednesday. But that obviously didn’t intimidate the Hawks, who scored in six of nine innings – racking up 23 hits – to defeat the Vikes.
The Hawks jumped to an early 2-0 lead on a two-out, two-RBI single from first baseman Chase Durham in the first inning. In the third, Howard went up 5-0. Tyler Collins doubled and came home on a Nathan Burns single. Designated hitter Landon Steinhagen, who had singled, scored on a single from Durham, and Burns raced home on a single swatted by Derrick Bleeker.
Grayson tied the game on a five-run fifth inning but Howard quickly answered in the sixth and took the lead for good. With two outs, Jordan Allen singled up the middle to score Rick Stover and Victor Guerra. Tony Calhoun then rapped a two-run homer for a 9-5 advamtage. In the seventh, Durham tripled and scored on a fielder’s choice by Stover.
Then in the eighth, Howard got insurance when, after Collins and Steinhagen singled, Collins scored on a fielder’s choice by Burns. Durham then slammed a two-run homer to make the score 13-5.
Grayson added two runs in the bottom of the inning and Howard wrapped up the victory with a five-run ninth. Collins cracked a double to deep left center, scoring Allen, who had also doubled aboard, and Calhoun, who had been hit by a pitch. Collins scored on a single from Steinhagen, who scored on a double by Burns. Bleeker followed with a single through the hole at shortstop, scoring Burns.
In a near perfect night, Durham had five hits on six at bats, including one home run. He accounted for five RBI.
Steinhagen and Collins had four hits each while Bleeker had three.
Brendan McCurry went 7-2/3 innings for the Hawks and was the game winner. He gave up eight hits and struck out nine batters. Clint Cooper picked up a save. He went 1-1/3 and gave up no runs on one hit.
Taking the loss was Garrett Powell, one of six pitchers who took the mound for Grayson.
In the afternoon game, Howard put together 17 hits to defeat rival New Mexico Junior College — a “payback” game for the Hawks, who had been defeated 5-1 Monday by the Thunderbirds. The Hawks opened quickly, scoring two first-inning runs. New Mexico came back to tie the game in the second, and both teams scored three runs in the third.
The difference was the Hawks' defense. It didn't permit another run after the third inning as pitcher Michael Franco allowed just eight hits and struck out nine batters for the contest. In going the distance, he walked four and had to battle against four Hawk-committed errors.
Chase Rousseau was pegged for the loss. He pitched just one inning and gave up four runs on two hits. The Hawks faced four Thunderbird moundsmen, including Jose Samayoa, who they whacked for five runs on seven hits.
Center fielder Jordan Allen, second baseman Brendan McCurry and designated hitter Landon Steinhagen had three hits apiece for the Hawks. Tyler Collins had a single and a home run and Tony Calhoun and Rick Stover also had two hits each. Rounding out the Hawk bats were Nathan Burns and Victor Guerra with one hit apiece.