When Howard College and New Mexico Junior College meet on the baseball diamond, there is no telling what will happen. The two Western Junior College Athletic Conference bullies met Friday at Jack Barber Field for another chapter in its storied rivalry.
This time, the Hawks would sweep the first two games of the four-game series winning the first outing by a score of 8-3 and taking Game Two 19-11 after a dramatic, eight-run comeback.
In Game One, patience at the plate and fundamentally sound defense were the keys to victory for the Hawks. Elliot Richoux and Jordan Allen each recorded their fifth home runs of the season and starting pitcher Logan Ehlers struck out 11 Thunderbird batters in a complete game win to help guide HC to the victory.
Things wouldn't go as smoothly for the Hawks in the second game.
Before the home team had a chance to swing a bat, they found themselves in a massive hole.
The NMJC batters lit HC's stater Ethan Carnes up, crossing home plate five times in the top of the first inning. HC Coach Britt Smith replaced Carnes after just two-thirds of an inning in an attempt to stop the bleeding.
Pitching in relief was Brandon Cogbill, who saw three more runs score while he was trying to get the elusive final out to end the inning. Before it was over, the T-birds has racked up eight runs on eight hits and two HC errors.
Fortunately, Cogbill settled in on the mound, and the Hawks slowly started mounting a comeback.
Paul Hendrix smacked a two-out solo homer to put the first HC run on the board in the bottom of the first.
Over the next three innings, NMJC added two runs to its score, and the Hawks picked up one more run on a RBI single by Brendan McCurry in the bottom of the second, and a two-run single belted by Levi Scott in the bottom of the third made it a 10-4 game.
With one out in the bottom of the fifth, Colt Bickerstaff knocked a two-run shot out of the park and Hector Lorenzana added a run when he singled to send Levi Scott home, cutting the T-Bird's lead to three.
A wild pitch charged to the Hawks in the top of the sixth would make bring the score to 11-7.
It took five and one-half innings, but HC's offense caught fire in the bottom of the sixth.
The rally started with a lead off double by Todd Ritchie followed by a walk drawn by Hendrix. Richoux made contact and was thrown out at first but picked up a RBI. Bickerstaff walked and Allen struck again, this time hitting a two-run single.
With two on and two out, Lorenzana made contact for another clutch hit, recording a two-run single, tying the game at 11.
NMJC couldn't respond in the seventh, but the Hawks were on a mission.
Hendrix started things off in the bottom of the seventh with a one-out single. Richoux tripled, scoring Hendrix to give HC its first lead of the game. Allen and Bickerstaff hit back-to-back doubles. Scott got a base hit that turned into a double thanks to a bobbled ball. McCurry singled and Dexter Kjerstad followed suit with a two-run single of his own, bringing the score to 16-11 by the inning's end.
Again, the Thunderbirds failed to manufacture a run in the top of the eighth.
Hendrix led off the bottom of the inning with a double, Richoux tripled to send Hendrix home and Allen, though called out at first, scored Richoux on a RBI. Bickerstaff took a base after being hit by a pitch, and Lorenzana put the game in the bag for HC with a game-winning RBI, ending the affair with a run-rule, 19-11 victory.
Smith cited the bullpen — which combined for 10 strikeouts — and the timely hits from the offense as the driving force behind the win.
“The credit goes to the hitters,” Smith said. It was 8-0 and we hadn't even hit yet. For a team that averages 11 runs per game, we knew we had to stop them. The bullpen did a great job of keeping us alive. We had a really good day.”
The series with NMJC is important to Smith, as a sweep would ensure the Hawks a first-place conference finish and a top seed designation headed into regionals.
The final two games of the series were played Saturday in Hobbs, N.M. Results will be in Monday's edition of the Herald.