GRAND PRAIRIE — Howard College's first order of business at the NJCAA Region V Tournament at QuikTrip Field was to find a way to win against No. 10 ranked Grayson College. The Hawks did just that, as they defeated the Vikings handily, 10-5.
After a 2-1 win over New Mexico Junior College and a 7-6 loss to Midland College, Howard was forced to face the Vikings, yet again.
This time, the Hawks found themselves on the receiving end of a 4-1 ballgame Tuesday — as well as eliminated from the postseason despite a solid effort by starting pitcher Diego Rodriguez and relief pitcher Blake Smith.
HC Head Baseball Coach Britt Smith said prior to the game that a solid outing from Rodriguez would be a major component to beating Grayson again.
“Diego just has to give us a chance,” said Smith, who guided his team to a national title in 2009.
Smith got what he needed on the mound.
“(Rodriguez) pitched fantastic,” he said. “And Blake was gassed. He threw for the third time in only three days and he threw well. We didn't give ourselves a chance offensively. Maybe (Grayson pitcher) Gittens was that good — usually, the indicator of how good your approach at the plate is, is the amount of fly balls you have. We has 12 and five strikeouts. The two errors in the field were big errors. They were momentum errors. Each time, we had opportunities and to give up those unearned runs — you can't do that in a championship situation, not against a good team like Grayson.”
Early on, however, it looked as if the Hawks would have the offense to back their hurlers. At least in the first inning.
Cameron Neal and Reed Seeley — the first two hitters of the day — drew back-to-back walks. Levi Scott hit a blooper and was thrown out at first, but the contact advanced the runners to second and third.
Batting cleanup, Nick Bullington picked up a RBI ground out to give HC a 1-0 lead.
A two-out double in the bottom of the first followed by an error and a base hit tied it up at 1-1.
It was pitching duel until the bottom of the fifth when a hit batsmen and a pair of doubles gave Grayson a 3-1 lead.
The Vikings would add another run in the sixth.
After two straight three-up, three-down innings for the Hawk offense, Michael Resnick recorded a one-out double in the top of the ninth, but was left on base.
With another season in the books, Smith said although it was a difficult year, he enjoyed the ride.
“We are who we are,” Smith explained. “Obviously, getting into the playoffs and coming within two games of the world series was good. I was surprised with the way we played all season long. It was frustrating for the players and the coaches, but they started playing like a team and it became enjoyable in the playoffs. They made it a lot of fun. It was definitely a challenging year. It makes you appreciate the years that go smoothly.”
Smith already has high hopes for next year.
“We've got a big group coming in,” Smith said. “We've already signed 17 guys for next year. Foster Burchett, Dane Steinhagen and Blake Smith are some of the guys that will be coming back. Hunter Wood may come back, depending on the draft and Jeff Stovall will be coming back from an injury. We may not have as many dominant arms, though.”
David Palladino and David Gates — Smith's go-to guys on the mound — will both be departing, as well as several other sophomores who are moving on in their collegiate careers or eligible for the Major League Baseball draft.
“We'll miss them,” Smith added. “We'll miss them more for the relationships. We appreciate everything they did while they were here. We expect to stay in tough with them, too. We had about 25 former players come out for the tournament. It does mean something to the kids and we appreciate their support.”