GRAND PRAIRIE — If you had told Howard College Head Baseball Coach Britt Smith a month ago that his team would be one game away from the Region V championship, he may not have believed you.
All season long, Smith has been critical of his squad's overall effort.
“They are a selfish team,” Smith proclaimed a few weeks ago.
Since then, Smith has changed his tune a bit. And for good reason — the Hawks went up against nationally-ranked Grayson College in the tournament opener and came away with a 10-5 win.
“(David) Palladino was unbelievable,” Smith said of the 6'9'' hurler. “He struck out 13 batters in 5 2/3 innings. I can say positive things about them, because they have played two good games.”
After sending Grayson to the loser's bracket Saturday, the Hawks had to face Western Junior College Athletic Conference foe New Mexico Junior College on Sunday.
The Thunderbirds beat Howard in three-of-four games in their regular season series, but Dane Steinhagen legged out an infield single in the second inning to score Nick Bullington from third base to take a 1-0 lead.
The score would remain unchanged until the top of the ninth when NMJC added a run of its own, transferring the pressure back to the Hawks.
In the bottom half of the innings, Steinhagen struck again with a base hit, Jose Favela bunted him to second base, then pinch hitter Joe Cervantes reached on a fielder's choice.
With runners on the corners, Cameron Neal took the first pitch downtown, scoring Steinhagen for the win.
“It's been the approach of the kids,” Smith said about the key to victory. “It's been a frustrating year. It's been frustrating for the players and it's been frustrating for the coaches because we knew we were capable of playing like this, but we haven't because we weren't unselfish. We could have been doing this all year.”
Pitcher David Gates allowed 11 walks and beaned two batters, but only allowed one hit and no runs through seven innings. Hunter Wood and Blake Smith entered the game in relief of Gates.
“He put all those runners on, but only allowed one hit,” Smith said. “It shows how tough he was.”
Today, the Hawks (45-13) have to take on another WJCAC nemesis — Midland College — if they are going to have a shot at a regional title.
“We need Tommy Burns to pitch well,” Smith added. “Midland is playing well, they are ranked in the Top 20, It ought to be a good game. We're going to have to play really well to win.”
The Hawks take the field at AirHogs Stadium today at 5 p.m. The winner will play for the Region V title Tuesday at 5 p.m.