Article Written by: Jason Farmer NEWS-SUN
Photo Taken by: Tony Baker NMTXsports.com
LUBBOCK-- Facing the possible end of its season, the New Mexico Junior College baseball team turned to Brian Archibald Saturday when the Thunderbirds faced the Hill College Rebels in an elimination game of the Region V Tournament at Texas Tech's Dan Law Field.
"When we had the National Anthem going my hand was shaking," Archibald said. " I was reallly nervous. After I got the first out, I got my nerves calmed down and it was all relaxed after that."
The performance that Archibald delivered was more than what NMJC skipper Jimmy Durham could have hoped for as the sophomore pitched the T-Birds to a 7-5 win.
"Archibald pitched an awesome game," Durham said. "He has been doing that down the stretch the last five, six, seven, outings. He has just been nails and to his credit, he kept them down and they swing the bat pretty good." I did not expect eight innings. I never anticipate, but what I was liking to get was five out of him. He threw really good today. He had a lot of command and he pitched."
The T-Birds improve to 35-22 overall and extend their season by at least one more day. NMJC returns to Rip Griffen Park today for a 1 p.m. (CST) start against the loser of Weatherford College and McLennan College. Durham was unsure of whom he was going to pitch today, but mentioned Alex Pinedo as a possibility. If the T-Birds can stave off elimination again, they will play another game at 8.p.m. (CST) tonight against the winner of Midland College and Odessa which plays at 10 a.m.
New Mexico Junior College scored first, plating a run in the bottom of the first. Chase Whetsel led off the game with a double on the first pitch he saw. After moving to third, he scored on Ryan Rijo's RBI groundout.
Hill College tied the game in the top of the second. The leadoff batter, Bobby Strahan, walked and moved to third on a double before knotting the game at 1-1 on a sacrifice fly.
Archibald faced 10 batters over his first two innings of work, allowing two hits and two walks while stranding three baserunners.
"I was a little scared in the first and second innings," Archibald said. "I couldn't find my fastball command, but in the later innings I picked up and found it hen I just started cruising."
The T-Birds retook the lead 3-1 in the bottom of the second. Riley Perterson walked and moved to second Larry Leitha's single. Both runners then scored on Levi Dixon's two-run double. They added two more runs in the bottom of the fourth. With two outs, Dixon singled and went to second on Eddy Vasquez's single. Whetsel was then hit by a pitch to load the bases.
With Jake Dickerson at the plate, Hill College starting pitcher Patrick Morrow tried to pick Whetsel off first but threw an errant throw, allowing Dixon and Vasquez to score and Whetsel to move to third. Dickerson ended the scoring with a ground out.
With the T-Birds up 5-1, Rijo led off the bottom of the fifth with a home run over the right field fence, ending Morrow's day.
In the bottom of the eighth, NMJC made the score 7-2 when Whetsel launched the T-Birds' second homer of the game.
"It was huge because it gives you a little boost going into your half of the inning on defense," Durham said of Whetsel's homer. "You never know. It could always be a huge run."
Those two home runs support turned out to be important insurance runs. With the run support, Archibald retired seven straight between the third inning and the fifth, before surrendering a one-out double to shortshop Drew Brooks. In the eighth inning, the T-Birds' hurler allowed a single to the leadoff batter designated hitter Seth Mikeska before getting the next two outs.
The inning should have ended with the next batter right fielder Marco Navarro, on a ground to second but Dixonwas unable to cleanly handle a ball. The error allowed Mikeska to score cutting NMJC's lead to 6-2. After a walk, Archibald struck out Rebels first baseman Greg Greene to get out of the inning.
Archibald scattered seven hits and three walks over his eight innings. The sophomore struck out four and allowed two runs, though only one was earned.
"I hope it is not my last game," Archibald said. "But, if it is, I went out good. I am going to miss it here, I know that."
In the ninth, Durham called on Leitha to close out the game who made it interesting before securing the win.
The T-Birds reliever walked Brooks and then gave up a two-run homer to catcher DJ Petrinsky. Leitha then retired the next two hitters before giving up a double, a walk, and another single scoring left fielder DeVaughn Gales and making the score 7-5. Leitha finally ending things with a strikeout to Roosevelt Henderson.
"He did (make it interesting)," Durham said of Leitha's finish, "but he has got it in him to fight through it and he did. It may not seem fun when it gets down to it like that, but it is fun because you are playing and this game is meant to be played."
New Mexico Junior College banged out 11 hits and new two free passes. Whetsel, Gavin Johnson, Leitha, and Dixon each had multiple hits. Rijo and Dixon each drove in two while Whetsel scored twice and had stole two bases.