LUBBOCK — It wasn't exactly how Howard College Head Baseball Coach Britt Smith wanted the season to end, but as he pointed out after the Hawks' 5-2 loss to the Cisco College Wranglers on Wednesday, “These guys went 91-25 in two years. That's .800 baseball — you can't ask for much better than that.”
One bad inning — the top of the second — would come back to haunt the Hawks as the normally dependable starting pitcher Logan Ehlers and the defense gave up five Cisco runs on five hits, a walk and an error.
“(Ehlers) was on short rest,” Smith said. “He didn't have the same velocity.”
Behind 5-0, Smith pulled Ehlers after only two and one-third innings on the mound. Dominic Moreno entered in relief and later Nicholas Sawyer would take over for Moreno. The pair allowed no runs for the duration of the outing, but the offense just wasn't firing on all cylinders.
The Hawks finally generated some momentum in the bottom of the eighth inning when Hector Lorenzana belted a one-out, solo homerun to make it a 5-1 game.
The HC fans who traveled to Texas Tech's Dan Law Field for the Region 5 championship anticipated a rally when Paul Hendrix drew a walk and then stole second during designated hitter Elliot Richoux's at-bat.
Richoux was called out on strikes, but with Hendrix in scoring position, Jordan Allen smacked a RBI single to send Hendrix home and cut the Wrangler's lead to three.
First basemen Levi Scott would also strikeout to end the inning, but the Hawks had one more opportunity to produce in the bottom of the ninth after holding Cisco scoreless in the top half of the inning.
Reed Seeley — who hadn't made a plate appearance in three weeks due to an injury — replaced catcher CJ Manning in the lineup and belted a double to lead off the final inning.
Unfortunately, the Hawks were stopped there, as three of the next four batters struck out, ending the Hawks rally as well as their season.
Smith can take solace in the fact that he is the first coach in Howard College history to win the Western Junior College Athletic Conference outright four years in a row.
It was also a bad second half of the year in regards to injuries, too.
“This is the first time in many years I can recall having to use so many lineups,” Smith said. “Those guys overcame tons of adversity with all of the injuries we have had to deal with.”
Runners-up in a competetive region and a first place conference finish made for a bittersweet end to the season.
The Hawks had hoped to be preparing for a trip to the JUCO National Championship tournament in Grand Junction, Colo., but Smith is now focused on making the trip next season.
“We have some good guys to replace,” Smith added. “The relationships we have developed, we love them, but Coach (J-Bob) Thomas has done an excellent job again. He recruits every year like we're losing everybody. We are going to come out next year, compete and try to win this (conference) five times in a row.”