LUBBOCK — Howard College's Hawks managed to survive marathon games and a torrid pace through the loser's bracket to place themselves in position for a trip to nationals during the Region V Baseball Tournament here, but in the end, it may have been fatigue that sent them home Thursday.
It wasn't all fatigue, of course. A scrappy, highly-touted Grayson County College ballclub had more than a little to do with it.
Heading into the ninth inning tied 6-6, Howard gave up six runs on a stolen base, two bases-loaded walks and a bases-loaded triple to succumb to the Vikings 12-6 in the tournament's championship game at Dan Law Field.
Howard had gone into the contest having played six games in four days — two of them lasted extra innings. In doing so, the Hawks came together as a team, their coach said, but were worn out physically.
“Our kids are exhausted,” Hawks Coach Britt Smith said hours before the title match.
Afterward, he concurred. “We just ran out of arm and still it was 6-6 going into the ninth inning. But they have a really good team and came back on us and it was all we could do to finally get out of the inning.”
After three scoreless innings, Grayson got on the board in the top of the fourth when D.J. Boschman doubled and scored on an Trevor Holland single. Holland made it a 2-0 game, scoring from third on a ground out.
Howard got one run back in the bottom of the fifth when catcher Rick Stover was hit by a pitch, moved to second on a Derrick Bleeker single, then took third and home on a couple of wild pitches by Grayson pitcher Steven Okert.
The Hawks took the lead in the sixth. After right fielder Nathan Burns reached on a walk and scored on an error, Stover cracked a two-run double. Bleeker followed that with a two-run homer and Howard led 6-2
Grayson rallied in the seventh, scoring four runs on four hits — including a two-run double from first baseman Dom Milo to tie the game.
The Vikings threatened again in the eighth, when Hawk pitching gave up two walks but a pitching change — Damie Magnifico for Rick Stover — and a 4-6-3 double play got Howard out of the inning unscathed.
That didn't happen in the ninth, however. Boschman singled to start the fray and was replaced by pinch runner Ty Crump. He advanced on a wild pitch. One out later, Holland walked and Crump scored the go-ahead run on a stolen base.
Cruz then walked and Howard traded Magnifico for Clint Cooper on the mound. Next-up A.J. Florence singled, loading the bases. The Hawks brought in Clint Sharp to pitch and he struck out Madison Carter. But the damage wasn't done. Travis Brewster drew a walk to force home Cruz and Abel Baker followed with a triple to deep center that brought in the final three runs.
In the bottom of the inning Brendan McCurry reached base on a walk and advanced as far as second, but the Hawks were never able to mount an offense.
Jake Abbott was the winning pitcher while Magnifico was pegged with the loss. Magnifico was one of seven pitchers Howard used in the game. Grayson put three on the mound, including Steven Okert and Abbott, who are both All-Americans.
Hawk hurlers allowed 15 hits and gave up 11 walks. Grayson allowed just five hits and seven walks.
Howard ends the season at 46-13 while Grayson advances to the nation juco tournament at 42-15.
“One of the first things we told these guys after the game was that we were most proud of them coming together as a team,” said Coach Smith. “We played a lot of individual baseball throughout the year. But that's something we pride ourselves on — playing together as a team. We finally did that in this tournament.”