Hawks Prevail Over Temple, Headed to World Series
FORT WORTH — For those who watched the Howard College Hawks baseball team cruise through an undefeated regular season and an unprecedented 57-game win streak, it was hard to see how any team could challenge this squad.
One found a way.
The 20th-ranked Temple College Leopards gave Howard all it could handle in the final two days of Region V Tournament.
However, in a game that had as many twists and turns as a roller coaster at Six Flags, the Hawks (58-1) finally prevailed, winning 4-3 in 10 innings Thursday at LaGrave Field in Fort Worth and clinching a spot in the Division I Junior College World Series in Grand Junction, Colo.
The decision was in doubt almost to the end.
With the score tied, 2-2, in the bottom of the eighth inning with a man on first, Temple took advantage of a throwing error by Hawks pitcher Will Calhoun to take the lead.
Calhoun handled a bunt laid down near the third-base side of the mound by Payton Wisener. Calhoun's throw to first got away from teammate Monk Kreder and headed out into the outfield. By the time Caleb Nine could get to it, Travis Trial was rounding third and scored easily, giving the Leopards a 3-2 lead.
The unearned run dampened the Hawks' hopes of advancing to the World Series.
"The guys competed. They played well at times," said Howard College Head Coach Britt Smith. "We made some base running mistakes, some fielding mistakes and every time we needed the big hit we didn't get it. It's frustrating sometimes as you go along. I look up in the eighth inning after they scored to go ahead and see that we've got 13 hits to their three and we're losing 3-2. I was thinking, 'What's the deal?'"
In the top of the ninth, Runey Davis led off by lining a shot straight at Temple third baseman Michael De La Rosa.
Then with one swing of the bat, Joe Leftridge kept the Hawks alive.
Leftridge lifted a 1-0 pitch over the fence in left field, tying the game, 3-3.
"Caleb Nine told me after Leftridge's home run that I had a pretty good vertical. He said he didn't know I could jump that high," said Smith. "I told him I used to be a pretty good athlete. I'm not so much now, but I used to be a pretty good one.
"That was definitely a lift from Joe," he continued. "I knew it was out as soon as he hit it even with the wind working against us."
Said Leftridge of his game-saving homer: "I've had some big hits, but never one that big. It was just a great feeling. I knew we had a shot at winning as soon as I came across home plate. We came through."
Things turned dark for the Hawks again in the bottom of the ninth, though. Ryan Meade led off the inning for Temple, reaching base via an error by Hawks second baseman Andrew Collazo. It was the fourth error of the game for the Hawks.
Meade moved up to third on a one-out double by Thad Zentek, placing two runners in scoring position.
Calhoun intentionally walked Zach Cohen to load the bases and put a force at every station.
With Pedro Maldonado pinch hitting, Calhoun was able to induce a ground ball on his first pitch. Nick Popescu handled the chopper on a short hop at third, threw to Miles Hamblin at home for one out and Hamblin made the throw to Kreder at first in time to get the Hawks out of the inning, sending the game into an extra frame.
"That was a turning point in the game," said Smith. "They had their best guy off the bench coming in. Nick made two errors today, but he made the toughest play of all of them when it counted the most. The way that ball took him to his left. He had to handle it on a short hop, then throw it back to the plate in time for Miles to turn the double play. That was incredible."
In the 10th, Temple pitcher Chad McLin was able to force Howard into a quick two outs.
Collazo came to the plate, having gone 0-for-4 on the day to that point. He had hit into three double plays on the game and only had one hit in his last 14 at bats.
The sophomore from New Jersey managed to keep the inning alive, though, with a base hit to center.
It turned out to be one of the biggest hits of the game.
"Drew's entire career at Howard can be summed up with big hits," said Smith. "Usually it's home runs, though. He did against Midland earlier this year. We were down 13-3 against Pratt last season and he hit a big 3-run homer to give us a 14-13 win. He has been that guy for us.
"Miles (Hamblin) and I talk about it all the time because he and Drew aren't in the same part of the batting order," he added. "Every time the game is close and Drew is up, Miles inches over and says, 'Big time for Drew hitting right here isn't it?' Sure enough, this one was big. That's who he is. He's a clutch player. He's a competitor and a warrior. He wants to go out and win to the point where sometimes he tries too hard. I'll take that in a player."
Collazo ultimately playing a major role in the outcome of the game was apparently predicted by Howard assistant coach J-Bob Thomas.
"Coach J-Bob was telling me the whole time that I was going to be a big part of this win," said Collazo. "I kept having big chances to produce some runs and couldn't come up with the hit. I was just focusing on getting on base with Runey coming up behind me."
With two outs and Collazo on first, Davis sent deep flyball to right center field that was just out of reach of Temple's Zentek in center field, who got the tip of his glove on it.
Collazo came all the way around from first to score what turned out to be the winning run.
"I just came in and told myself to stick to my approach at the plate," said Davis. "I believed in myself and got the hit. It was all about confidence."
Smith wasn't nearly as confident the ball was going to fall into play once Zentek started ranging back to catch it.
"Honestly, with the way things had gone today, I thought he was going to catch that ball," admitted Smith. "It wasn't because of the way it was hit, it's just the way things had gone to that point. You just wonder when it's going to finally turn our way."
Calhoun went into the bottom of the 10th and sat down the first three batters he faced. Appropriately, the final out landed in the glove of Davis in center field.
Calhoun (5-0) got the win, pitching the final three innings. He didn't give up any runs and allowed on one hit.
"I was hoping and looking forward to the opportunity. I was ready just like all the other pitchers were," said Calhoun. "I wanted to win this game, so when coach called on me it wasn't a surprise. I was looking forward to it. I just wanted to go out in the final inning and shut Temple down the best we could. We put all the work we've done this season into one inning and shut them down."
The Hawks were forced into the decisive game after losing the Temple Wednesday, 8-2. It was Howard's first loss of the season and ended a record-setting 57-game win streak.
Calhoun said the loss didn't hit the team as hard as it did some of the fans and media following the Hawks.
"After that loss, we didn't really think of it as a big deal," said Calhoun. "We knew we had to regroup and get back out on the field and do what we've done all season. That's win ball games."
According to Smith, the way the final two games of the Region V Tournament played out will only make the Hawks a better team in the World Series.
"I think it's only going to help us," said Smith. "For one, we don't have to worry about anyone talking about us potentially being the only team to ever win a World Series undefeated. Good. I'm glad. The record is safe. The pressure of that streak was enough. I told the team after the loss that I was glad it was over. Honestly, this team has been blessed all year and getting that monkey off our back was just another blessing."
The World Series is set to begin May 23 and runs through May 30. It is a 14-team double-elimination bracket. Only four spots have been locked up as of press time with Howard being joined by Cowley County (Kan.) Community College (47-13), Santa Fe (Fla.) Community College (32-20) and a second squad from Texas, San Jacinto College (43-9).
For the Hawks, qualifying for the World Series is simply the next step in achieving their ultimate goal of a national championship.
"When I got here in the fall, I just wanted to get back to doing what I knew I was capable of doing as a player," said Davis. "As time went on, I started realizing how good of a team we had. From the very first day, I knew we had something special. Now we're headed to Grand Junction and that was our goal from the start."
Howard 4, Temple 3
HC 020 000 001 1—4 14 4
TC 000 002 010 0—3 5 0
Zach Neal, Hunter Hill (6), Will Calhoun (8) and Miles Hamblin. Sam Cordero, Justin Williams (6), Russell Johns (9), Chad McLin (9) and Doug Oney, Garrett Raburn (9). W - Calhoun (6-0). L - McLin. 2B: HC - Caleb Nine, Runey Davis; TC - Darren Crabtree, Thad Zentek. 3B: HC - Hamblin. HR: HC - Monk Kreder, Joe Leftridge; TC - Travis Trial. RBI: HC - Leftridge, Kreder, Andrew Collazo, Davis; TC - Ryan Mead, Trial. SB: HC - Collazo; TC - Zentek. LOB: HC 12, Temple 5.
By JONATHAN HULL
Sports Editor Big Spring Herald