Article Written by: Jason Farmer NEWS-SUN
Photo Taken by: Tony Baker nmtxsports.com
The New Mexico Junior College baseball team had a big weekend. Coming into the Thunderbirds' four-game series with Clarendon College, NMJC was tied for third in the Western Junior College Athletic Conference. By the end of the weekend, the T-Birds had swept Clarendon and were in sole possession of third place, only one game back of second pace Odessa.
The series wasn't an easy one though. After taking the first two games on Friday, the team's doubleheader on Saturday was rained out. With the game moved to Sunday, the T-Birds took care of business, beating the Bulldawgs 9-3 in the first game and 17-6 in the second game.
"The delay probably didn't bother them at all," New Mexico Junior College skipper Jimmy Durham said. "It just makes me a little more anxious, but i get over that. It is just part of being a coach. But them, they didn't care, it didn't hurt to give them a day off actually."
New Mexico Junior College trailed once in each game. NMJC allowed Clarenon to score one run in the topof the second inning in the opener before the T-Birds pushed three runs across the plate in the bottom of the frame. In the second game, Clarendon scored three times in the top of the first, only to watch as NMJC tied the game with three runs of its own in the bottom of the frame. The T-Birds then scored three more runs in the bottom of the second to take a 6-3 lead.
After getting the lead, NMJC never gave it up. In the game one, NMJC scored twice in the third and four times in the fifth. The T-Birds banged on 10 hits in the first game. Chase Whetsel, Larry Leitha, and Rodrigo Avina all had multiple hits. Jake Dickerson, Avina, and Rijo each had RBI-doubles and eventually came around to score, Whetsel had a triple while Leitha blasted the only home run of the game, a two-run shot in the bottom of the second.
"I will take the runs whichever way we can get them," Durham siad. "We just didn't get big hits today really. To (Clarenodon's) pitcher's credit, they kept us down, but we just didn't get a big hit to break it open."
Alex Pinedo started the game and went the distance for NMJC, though in the fifth inning it looked like he might not make it that far when he walked the bases loaded.
"Finishing the game means a lot," Pinedo said.
"Giving up only one run with no outs and the bases loaded is a win for me, especially when you have the lead and in a park like here."
Durham wanted to see Pinedo finish the game, but was ready to bring in a reliever if he needed too.
"I feel comfortbale with our bullpen," Durham said. "But I just want him to be able to extend himself a little bit and pitch out of it. I would rather him pitch out of it because it means more when he can do that. It means more to him.
"I wanted him to finish. It means a lot to him to be able to finish games," the skipper continued. "He likes to finish what he starts. Sometimes we have had to get him, but he really likes to finish and I like that."
The left-hander allowed only four hits, two of which came in the top of the seventh, but also walked seven. Pinedo struck out six while throwing 125 pitches.
"Looking back at the numbers and seeing what the walks could do," Pinedo said. "I could maybe cut my pitch count in half and I could go longer into the game and throw harder. Limiting the walks shows that if this was a tight game, that could have bit me at the end."
Durham likes what Pinedo brings to the mound, the T-Birds' skipper felt the El Paso native was trying too hard and that led to the free passes.
"I think he just presses," Durham sid. "He tries a little too hard. He tries to do a little too much on occasion and tries to miss bats instead of pitching to contact sometimes. I think that is just his nature as a pitcher and he has just got to learn throw more strikes and let them put it in play. That is wy we have guys surrounding him."
In the second game, Brian Archibald threw a complete game for NMJC. Archibald scattered eight hits and one walk over six innings of work. He allowed six runs, only four of which were earned, while throwing 96 pitches.
At the plate, the T-Birds had 14 hits, nine of which went for extra bases.
Whetsel and Dickerson each had three hits while Leitha and Eddy Vasquez had two hits apiece. Whetsel was 3-for-5 with a home run and two doubles. He scored four times and drove in two. Dickerson had a double and blasted two home runs. The right fielder drove in six runs while scoring three times. Leitha and Vasquez also homered for NMJC while Rijo had another double.
With the sweep, the T-Bird mproves to 32-19 on the season and 24-8 in WJCAC play. The sweep on Sunday also assured NMJC of a spot in the NJCAA Region V Tournament.
Next up for NMJC is a four-game series with Howard College. The Hawks are one game behind the T-Birds in the WJCAC standings. The first two games will be played on Friday at Ray Birmingham Filed while the final two games will be played Saturday in Big Spring, Texas.