JASON FARMER NEWS-SUN
May 14, 2019
JASON FARMER/NEWS-SUN PHOTOS The New Mexico Junior College baseball team celebrates after beating McLennan Community College 14-11 Monday night in San Angelo, Texas at Angelo State University to advance to the Junior College World Series in Grand Junction, Colo.
SAN ANGELO, TEXAS – For the New Mexico Junior College baseball team, the season is not over as the Thunderbirds will be heading to Grand Junction, Colorado for the Junior College World Series.
New Mexico Junior College went into the NJCAA Region V Tournament as the No. 2 seed out of the Western Junior College Athletic Conference. The T-Birds played four games and won them all. Though it wasn't easy, NMJC capped the double-elimination tournament with a 14-11 win over No. 8 McLennan Community College Monday night at Angelo State University's Foster Field.
"It was huge (to win tonight). We were running short on pitching too," NMJC skipper Jimmy Durham said. "I know there were. You always want to win it in four because it really taxes your pitching staff. They hung in there. It was a tough group, a very tough group."
The JUCO World Series will be held on May 25 through June 1 at Sam Suplizio Field in Grand Junction, Colorado.
"I would say I am just happy to be there," the T-Birds' skipper said. "I am extremely happy for these guys to be there. I want the experience something that I have experienced nine times already. I want them to experience it because they are going to remember it. Whatever they do, they are going to remember this trip the rest of their lives."
The T-Birds (42-15) fell behind 1-0 in the first inning, but took the lead in the top of the second on Angel DeLaCruz's two-run homer to right field. McLennan tied the game in the bottom of the inning when T-Bird hurler Pablo Saurez gave up a 2-out home run.
The game wasn't tied long though.
In the top of the third, NMJC sent all nine batters to the plate and scored four runs. The T-Birds forced McLennan to use three pitchers in the inning, with two of the three Highlander hurlers failing to record an out.
New Mexico Junior College added two more runs in the top of the fourth, pushing its lead to
8-2. McLennan scored again in the bottom of the fourth, pushing one run across the plate, but NMJC came right back with two more runs in the top of the fifth.
After failing to score in the sixth, the T-Birds went into the bottom of the frame leading 10-3, but the Highlanders got three runs on a two-out, three-run homer. After Suarez gave up a single to the next batter, Durham went to the mound and pulled his pitcher. Tristan Stivors came on in relief of Suarez and quickly retired the first batter he faced to end the inning.
SUAREZ WAS CALLED FOR an illegal pitch in the first inning and a balk in the fourth, allowed six runs, all earned, on five hits and four walks. He struck out six while earning the win.
Junior Ramirez (35) and Angel DeLaCruz (34) celebrate after DeLaCruz's solo home run in the top of the ninth inning. DeLaCruz hit two homers in NMJC's 14-11 win over McLennan Community College.
"Pablo settled down. He has a tendency to get a little excited anyway and overthrow and that makes him a little erratic," Durham said. "That was my only concern about him coming into this game. He squelched that concern pretty quick. I thought he was going to come unglued after (the illegal pitch), but he probably didn't know what the call was. It probably didn't affect him as much as I thought I it might. He did a great job and giving us a chance to get the offense on track."
The T-Birds got all three runs back in the top of the seventh. Adrian Torres had a two-run single and DeLaCruz had an RBI-groundout, giving NMJC a 13-6 lead.
Things got ugly for NMJC in the bottom of the eighth. After a flyout and a groundout, McLennan's next two batter reached base on a single and a hit by pitch. The T-Birds had a chance to get out of the inning with no damage, but Daniel Hernandez was charged with an error on the next batter, loading the bases. A passed ball allowed one run to score and was followed by a three-run homer and a solo homer, cutting NMJC's lead to 13-11.
Joab Gonzalez avoids being picked off as he dives back into first base Monday night during NMJC's 14-11 victory. Gonzalez was 1-for-4 with a walk and a run scored.
"That can happen," Durham said. "The wind just started to pick up during that inning. It was crazy. I think that northern was coming in. Tristan, we have called on him all year to do this, to come in and close. He is our go-to guy and he has just done a great job. He showed the last inning what kind of pitcher he is."
bat was it for the Highlanders though.
The T-Birds got one more run in the top of the ninth, a solo home run from DeLaCruz. The T-Birds' DH finished the night with two homers, four RBI, and two walks, one of which was intentional.
"He just grinds out at bats. He has really good at bats," Durham said. "He has done that all year. He is one of the most consistent guys I have ever had. He doesn't get himself out very often."
WITH HIS TEAM NOW leading by three, Stivors came out and shut down the Highlanders in the bottom of the ninth. The T-Birds' closer struck out the first two batters he faced before getting the final batter to fly out to center.
"My first thought was dang (another homer). I thought it was out of here," Durham said. "But, the guy didn't really get it all. He probably got it more on the end of the bat, but he hit it OK. It concerned me a little off the bat, but it ended the way we always want it to end."
Stivors pitched 3.1 innings for the T-Birds to get the save. He allowed five runs on four hits and hit one batter while striking out five.
The T-Birds had 17 hits in the game, but also left 11 runners stranded on the bases, nine of whom were left in scoring position.
"We did. I thought we did (leave a lot of runs on the bases). The T-Birds' skipper said. "That is a credit to (McLennan's) pitching staff. The played some gutsy kids and they have a great team. That team was ranked high in the country and it was a very tough team to beat."
Six players had multiple hits. Zac Vooletich reached base five times and scored four runs. Carlos Contreras had three hits, including a triple. He drove in one and scored once. Torres also had three hits and scored twice while driving in four. Hernandez had two hits and scored twice while Junior Ramirez had two hits and drove on three. Rody Barker was the only player not to get a hit, though he was hit by a pitch and scored a run.
While the Junior College World Series begins play on May 25, the T-Birds will head up to Grand Junction early to take part in several events that kick things off.
"We go there about three days before it starts because there are events to take part in," Durham said. "There is a banquet, and for the very first time in my life, I get to sit at the head table, ever. First time ever which is going to be foreign to me. Then they have the challenger game and a clinic where the players work with little kids at the stadium. It is the best-run event in the country almost. It is as good or better than Omaha."