JASON FARMER NEWS-SUN
May 28, 2019
Pablo Suarez pitches for NMJC in the seventh inning Sunday night. Suarez, who relieved Mark Barillas, struck out five of the six batters he faced in the Thunderbirds' season-ending 8-2 loss to Monroe College in the Junior College World Series.
GRAND JUNCTION, CO. – Heading into the Junior College World Series, the New Mexico Junior College baseball team was on a roll. The Thunderbirds breezed through the Region V Tournament without a loss, earning a spot in the 10-team JUCO World Series. Unfortunately for the T-Birds, their stay wasn't long as NMJC was eliminated after two games.
"It is always tough for them because they put so much into it," NMJC skipper Jimmy Durham said. "Then you get here and you are disappointed with the results and they are not what you anticipated or expected.
"But, the atmosphere is electric, the atmosphere is awesome," Durham continued. "They get to experience it once in their lifetime usually, unless they come back-to-back, and that is tough to do in our region. But they got out of our region and that is an extremely difficult thing to do, to be regional champs."
Zac Vooletich dives safely into third base on Adrian Torres' single in the third inning. Vooletich would score the first run of the game one batter later. When it was over, NMJC had lost 8-2 to Monroe College, ending the T-Birds' season.
After losing to Alabama's Chattahoochee Valley 20-12 in a game they never led in on Saturday, the T-Birds fell to the consolation bracket where they were matched up with Monroe College out of New York. Sunday, the T-Birds took the early lead, but were unable to hold it and lost 8-2, ending their season.
"Getting here is hard. Getting here is tough," the T-Birds' skipper said. "It is a great tribute to these kids and what they did. … It didn't turn out how we wanted and how they would have liked, but they will remember this and remember this
accomplishment that they had. It is a very big accomplishment."
Sunday's game was scoreless for the first three innings. The T-Birds finally broke through in the top of the third. Zac Vooletich walked and moved to third on Adrian Torres' single. Angel DeLa Cruz followed with a single, scoring Vooletich.
The T-Birds had other opportunities, but just couldn't put anything together. NMJC had just five hits in the game, along with seven walks, and left 11 runners stranded on the bases.
"We let 11 on (Sunday) and nine on (Saturday)," Durham said. "That had not been our Achilles heal all year, but in this tournament, it was. In this tournament, you have got to take advantage of every single offensive opportunity to score or it will come back to bite you and we just didn't do it."
The NMJC skipper was also quick to praise the Mustangs' pitcher Brandon Backman and how good he was.
"The only problem he ran into was when he walked people," Durham said. "He kept us down and we could not take advantage of any opportunity with runners in scoring position or anywhere on the bases. He is good. He shut us down."
New Mexico Junior College's final run came in the top of the ninth with the team trailing 8-1. Joaquin Ballesteros walked to get things started. After a pop out, Rody Barker walked, putting runners on first and second. Carlos Contreras then singled to load the bases.
With one out, Daniel Hernandez crushed a pitch to left center that looked like it was going to be a grand slam. However, strong winds knocked the ball down and the Monroe College center fielder caught the ball at the wall. Still, Ballesteros was able to jog home from third, scoring NMJC's final run of the season.
"(The wind) knocked Joab's hit down in right-center too," Durham said. "But, (Monroe) hit in the same situation that we did. It is part of the game, but yeah, the wind did (knock it down)."
Mark Barillas was on the mound for the T-Birds and took the loss. The NMJC hurler gave up 11 hits while striking out 11. He walked two and allowed all eight runs.
"Mark has had more strikeouts than innings pitched this year, and he continued to do that (here)," Durham said. "Mark just kept us right there. He battled and battled. He has kept us in games all year and tonight we just couldn't get the offense going."
Pablo Suarez came on in relief of Barillas with one out in the bottom of the seventh. Suarez struck out the first batter he faced, then allowed a single before striking out the next batter to end the inning. In the eighth, Suarez retired the side in order, striking out all three Mustang batters. The freshman hurler faced six batters and struck out five of them.
"I really wanted to get him in and have him touch that mound in hopes that he might be back," the T-Birds' skipper said. "I wanted him to touch the mound in a big situation, a big environment and he did very well."
With the loss, the T-Birds finished their season at 42-17.