Lions clipped, 4-3, in a classic
Endorphins aplenty for SAGU in setback
Seniors shine; Jett, Mendoza, Morgan
TYLER, Texas -- On a sun-splashed, 80-degree, breezy day at Texas College’s on-campus field, two teams enjoyed well-pitched performances in a classic college baseball with a lot on the line.
The host Steers took both ends of a doubleheader, starting with a 4-3 triumph in the bottom of the seventh, then broke a late tie to sweep the twinbill, 5-1. It allowed them to clinch second in the Red River Athletic Conference, while the results ended the season for Southwestern Assemblies of God University.
The visting Lions (15-27) needed two wins to qualify for a berth in the National Christian College Athletic Association's Central Regional next week in Denver.
For the continually-improving SAGU Lions, the team’s effort down the stretch produced endorphins in which a coach and a core of players could take great pride.
The final scores notwithstanding, there was a great deal to like and left a valid reason for optimism in 2013.
Game One Review
Perhaps more than any major sport, baseball is a game of breaks. The Steers had them in abundant supply; either making them or having them gift-wrapped.
Game One was a great pitcher’s duel between a pair of seniors; SAGU’s Nic Morgan (Ft. Worth, Tx / LeTourneau Univ, Boswell HS) and TC’s Chris Blackmon.
Morgan, a 6-foot-3 southpaw, outpitched the 6’4 Blackmon, and deserved a better fate than being tagged with the loss.
Tied at 3-3 heading into the bottom of the last inning, the Steers got two huge breaks that tipped the scales in their favor. Both appeared very obvious, even to local media covering the game.
Morgan got the leadoff batter on a routine fly to LF Mario Mendoza (Ft. Worth, Tx / Grambling State Univ, Polytechnic HS), then fanned the next batter on an off-speed, outside pitch for the second out. The ball hit the ground after he swung, allowing the batter, Tristen Neal, a .397 hitter, to run to first.
Neal, however, ran well inside the baseline towards first baseman Taylor Froelich (Lee's Summit, Mo / Lee's Summit West HS). The throw from catcher Jared Denton (Mission, Tx / Sharyland HS) hit him in the back. The expected interference call from the home plate official never came, awarding Neal the base.
Morgan tossed a couple of obligatory throws to Froelich (FRAY-lick) to keep Neal, a wildly effective base stealer, from getting too large of a lead.
The TC coaching staff complained loudly on the first toss, which was the same move Morgan had used throughout the game. On the second, the umpire responded by ruling it was a balk, advancing Neal into scoring position.
Morgan’s first pitch to Kasey Vogel, who went 4-for-4, was poked into right field for the game-winning hit.
A local reporter said, “I was surprised on both calls, especially with the game on the line. I’m calling it an unearned run.”
But it counted.
Lanky lefty delivered
Morgan threw a complete game, 86-pitch, nine-hitter. He struck out three, all swinging, and did not issue a walk. Only two of the runs he allowed were earned.
He got eight outs on fly balls and seven on grounders. The infield turned two double plays behind him. A year ago the Lions turned only one double play in 40 games. They had ten in the first month of this season.
Two errors to back-to-back hitters in the first inning, one on high fly that was lost in the midday sun, both in centerfield, led to a pair of runs. A big break for the hosts. There was no other scoring until the sixth (it was a 7-inning game).
SAGU finally crossed the threshold on a bases-loaded walk to Enrique Rodriguez (Ft. Worth, Tx / Ranger JuCo, Nolan Catholic HS), forcing in Froelich, who had lined a single to rightcenter. The rally ended when Rockie Davis (Santa Fe, Tx / Santa Fe HS), who had a splendid day, lined a one-bounce smash that the shortstop snared, turning it into a 6-4-3 double play, nabbing a head-first diving Davis at first.
The Lions loaded the bases three times in the game, and only produced one run. Not only did they strand 10 baserunners, four innings ended with a runner left on third base. Southwestern went 3-for-11 with men in scoring position.
The Horns answered the run with one of their own in the bottom of the sixth. A single, sacrifice bunt and another single put runners on the corner.
Morgan got Moises Espinoza on a shallow fly to right. Zach Worrell (Ft. Worth, Tx / Central Christian College, LD Bell HS) unsheathed his lethal left, gunning for Jose Serna, who tagged up and was bound for home. He was toast by nearly eight feet.
But the laser-liner from Worrell hit the dirt and skirted low, evading Denton, allowing the Steers to take a 3-1 lead into the seventh. A huge break.
Needing two to tie, the Lions roared.
Benning(field) and the Jett
Jett ripped a 1-1 pitch to left to start the inning, tying Tommy Benningfield for SAGU’s all-time hit record. Mendoza followed with a frozen rope to rightfield that sailed over Serno’s head, and motored into third with a stand-up, RBI triple.
Donovan Vess (Ft. Worth, Tx / Eastfield College, Lake Worth HS), the team’s top hitter all season, hit a looping liner to shallow right for a single. Jett had to hold at third as the ball was nearly caught.
Blackmon regrouped, sitting down the next three batters, the last two on strikes.
Froelich’s grounder to short scored Jett with the equalizer with one out. Vess took second on the grounder and stole third, where he remained on consecutive whiffs.
It set the stage for the dramatic and highly questionable seventh for the Steers.
SAGU outhit TC by an 11-9 count, led by Jett and Mendoza, each going 3-for-4.
Vess, Froelich, Ben Chavez (Roswell, NM / NM Military Institute, Gateway Christian HS), Ed O’Banion (Peoria, AZ / Raymond S Kellis HS) and Davis each had hits.
Head Coach Jon Shockley had to shuffle the line-up as some players remained on campus for classes or finals. Chavez played second, O’Banion was at third and Worrell manned rightfield. Plus, starting third bagger, senior Riley Hensel (Maypearl, Tx / Maypearl HS), remained out with a hand contusion.
Web gems shackle scoring threats
Three stellar defensive plays by TC had as much to do with the outcome as Southwestern’s missed opportunities and the missed calls.
On two occasions during the three bases-loaded situations, Steers’ senior catcher Blaine Shackleford picked off a Lion at second base. A quick snap release from his knees nabbed baserunners from behind with pinpoint throws.
The one-out plays effectively took wind from the sails of propitious settings.
In the fifth stanza, Davis ripped a single past third before Jett and Mendoza singled to load the bags with ‘Cats. Vess, hitting .378 entering the game; the only freshman in the RRAC’s Top 20, stepped into the box.
He jumped on a first pitch fastball like a rooster on a June bug, stroking a two-out, sinking liner up the middle. The speedy Neal, TC's centerfielder, countered by jetting in to make a great catch at the top of his shoes.
For Morgan, dropping a classic wasn’t heartbreaking. “It was a good-kind of loss,” he said afterwards. “Before this year we had plenty of blowout losses. This was just good baseball.”
He said his fastball and slider were very effective, and then praised the withstraint the Steers exhibited on his out pitch, the change-up. “Most guys swing through it,” he pointed out. “But they were good today.”