T-Birds Sweep Westerners, Stay in First
4/28/2014 9:27:12 a.m. - Hobbs, NM. (Story and Photo Courtesy of Clayton Jones/Hobbs News-Sun)
The New Mexico Junior College baseball team put itself in a great position to win its first Western Junior College Athletic Conference title since 2008 after beating Western Texas 10-7 and 12-4 Saturday at Ray Birmingham Thunderbird Field to complete a four-game sweep of the Westerners.
The Thunderbirds (32-19 overall) are 26-6 in conference, two games ahead of Frank Phillips (32-18, 24-8) with the two teams meeting in the final four-game series of the season starting Friday in Borger, Texas (all four games will be played in Borger). NMJC needs to win at least two games to be the undisputed conference champs and needs to win one to at least share the conference title (but would lose the tiebreaker via losing the head-to-head matchup 3-1).
The T-Birds, who haven’t finished below third in the WJCAC since 2010 and no worse than fourth since the last conference title in 2008, were in a similar position last season as they led Midland College by a game heading into the final series of the season. But NMJC split its series while Midland College swept and the T-Birds were overtaken on the final day of the season.
“It’s a great feeling but we are in the same spot that we were in last year,” NMJC coach Josh Simpson said. “We didn’t take care of business like we needed to last year. But we can’t go up there being concerned about anything else. Right now we have nothing so we don’t have anything to lose. We aren’t the defending conference champs. So there is nothing to lose.”
NMJC put itself in this position by reaching double figures in runs and hits in each game Saturday against Western Texas and finishing with a combined 22 runs and 24 hits.
Simpson said the only thing that will slow his team’s offensive production down is itself – something Simpson said happened in stretches Saturday.
“The inconsistency comes from ... being so confident that they don’t make adjustments very quick,” Simpson said. “They have a certain approach and when other teams force our hand, we struggle to make those changes. But we can get those things fixed. I’d rather have a team that’s confident at the plate though then that is struggling to score runs.”
NMJC jumped right on Western Texas starter Matt Glassman in the first inning of game one Saturday with five consecutive hits to start the contest, including RBI doubles by Preston Marsh and Alex Torres and a two-run single by Clark Kahawaii to make it 4-0 after one.
NMJC again put up four runs in the second inning on a Jared Gaspard RBI single, a two-run double by Marsh and an RBI single by Torres to make it 8-1. The Westerners closed the gap to 8-4 on a three-run homer by Victor Nazario in the third inning but wouldn’t get closer than three the rest of the way.
Luke Papanicolaou picked up the win in relief for NMJC, going the final 4 2-3 innings and giving up three runs (one earned) on eight hits with two walks. It was his second win of the series. NMJC starter Fernando Fernandez struggled with control, going 2 1-3 innings and giving up four runs on two hits with two strikeouts and five walks.
Marsh finished 2-for-4 for NMJC with two doubles and four RBI in game one, Dalton Bowers was 2-for-4 with two runs, Gaspard was 2-for-3 with an RBI, stolen base and two runs and Torres was 2-for-4 with a double and two RBI. Piedra Vista grad and NMJC freshman Jacy Cave hit a solo home run in the game that went over the netting in left field that protects the cars in the parking lot of Lea Regional Medical Center.
Glassman got the loss for Western Texas, going 5 1-3 innings and giving up 10 runs (nine earned) on 11 hits with four strikeouts and one walk. Francisco Martinez, Hunter Spear, Dexter Wilson and Brandon Garnto each had two hits in the first game for the Westerners.
NMJC jumped out strong in game two as well, scoring two runs in the first and four more in the third to take a 6-0 lead. Western Texas eventually cut the lead to 6-4 with two outs in the seventh inning when Eunice graduate and NMJC sophomore Tyler Almager entered in relief and got the T-Birds out of the jam by getting Aaron Collazo to fly out to center field.
The T-Birds followed by scoring six runs in the bottom of the seventh – highlighted by a two-run double by A.J. Perez and a two-run single by Braden Martin – to end the game via eight-run mercy rule 12-4.
Colby Price picked up the win for NMJC, going 6 2-3 innings and giving up four runs (three earned) on seven hits with three strikeouts and five walks. Almager picked up the save in his 1-3 of an inning since the tying run was at the plate when he entered the game.
Perez was 3-for-4 for NMJC with a double and three RBI, Torres went 2-for-3 with a double and RBI, Will Bass was 2-for-4 with an RBI and Martin was 2-for-4 with two RBI. John Millan got the loss for Western Texas, going six innings and giving up six runs (four earned) on 10 hits with two strikeouts and two walks.
Colin Porter, Nazario and Collazo each hit solo home runs for the Westerners in game two.
[Photo: NMJC's Clark Kahawaii (5) rounds third to score while Will Bass sprints toward third during the T-Birds' 12-4 win over Western Texas College in game two of a doubleheader Saturday at Ray Birmingham Thunderbird Field.]