Tournament MVP Collazo Leads Howard College to National JUCO Title
GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. — He's done it throughout his baseball career at Howard College, but Andrew Collazo saved the biggest two hits of his two years as a Hawk in his final at-bats with the team.
After Will Calhoun drew a bases loaded walk to give Howard a 5-4 lead over Santa Fe (Fla.) College in the top of the 10th inning, Collazo came through with a single to left, scoring two more runs. The 2-RBI base hit put the game out of reach for the Saints as the Hawks claimed their second Division I Junior College World Series title in program history with a 7-4 victory.
"Some guys play best under pressure and Andrew is one of them," said Howard College Head Coach Britt Smith. "He's one of the most clutch player I have ever seen. He has done this time and time again since he's been here."
For his efforts, Collazo was honored as the tournament's Most Valuable Player and Best Defensive Player, receiving trophies for each accomplishment.
"I was struggling the whole tournament at the plate," admitted Collazo, who was hitting just .200 for the Series heading into his second-to-last at-bat. "The coaches and the team never gave up on me and believed in me. I'm just glad I was able to come through for my teammates. It feels great. I never dreamed of being this big of a difference for my team. I've dreamt some big moments, but nothing like this."
The Hawks appeared to have the big dramatic finish they've become known for in the postseason when Collazo crushed a pitch from Mee over the left wall, giving Howard 4-3 lead.
However, the Saints weren't done yet. With runners on the corners and two outs, Keon Broxton belted a Calhoun pitch into the gap in right center. Jardian Thomas, who doubled to lead off the inning, scored from third. Tyler Cook attempted to score from first, but was just thrown out at the plate by Bryan Johns, sending the game into extra innings.
"I didn't think we could do it any other way," said Howard College Associate Head Coach Jack Giese on the Hawks being forced to win the game in extra innings. "It's been a crazy run, so it was just appropriate for us to go into extra innings."
Dylan Cacciola pitched the first eight innings for the Hawks, allowing three earned runs on nine hits and one walk, while striking out five batters. Cacciola kept Santa Fe at bay despite playing with tightness in his forearm.
"Dylan showed what type of competitor he is tonight," said Giese. "He had tightness in his forearm starting in the second or third inning. He was getting it worked on and loosened up between each inning. He came out and threw strikes. You'd never know it was hurting him. That's the type of performance you need from your pitcher in this situation."
However, it was Calhoun picking up the victory for the Hawks. He claimed the extra-innings win at the Region V Tournament final and is also the pitcher of record for the win in the World Series final.
"Will gets a lot of attention for his hitting, but we originally brought him here as a pitcher for these type of situations. The hitting was just a bonus," said Smith. "Will never pitched this season with the game not on the line. He always responds to those situations. He doesn't have the best stuff, but he's got supreme confidence in what he throws and it makes a difference."
Just like in the final game of the Region V Tournament, the final out of the game was caught by center fielder Runey Davis, who was named to the All-Tournament team. Unlike in the regional championship though, Davis didn't start celebrating before he caught the ball in Grand Junction.
"I might have had to tackle him if he started doing that," joked Giese. "Got to have two hands on the glove to secure that one.
"When I saw it go up, I knew the game was over," said Davis. "I kind of slipped a little when I first broke on the ball, so I figured I better take this one easy. But when I saw it go up, I knew it was ball game."
Joe Leftridge continued his hot play at the plate, singling to center to lead off the game. Santa Fe center fielder Keon Broxton didn't field Leftridge's hit cleanly, allowing the speedy freshman to advance to second.
Bryan Johns laid down a bunt to move Leftridge to third. Miles Hamblin hit a sharp chopper to first and Santa Fe's Trace Vengas attempted to throw Leftridge out at home, instead of stepping on the bag to retire Hamblin.
Venegas' throw was well late and Leftridge got the Hawks on the board first.
The Saints tied it up in their part of the first, playing station-to-station baseball after Tyler Cook led off with a single. Cook stole second, advanced to third on a grounder by Andy Mee and scored on a single by Ryan Matthews.
Leftridge continued to be the catalyst that every championship-caliber team needs at the top of the order, doubling with one out in the third inning. An infield single by Johns and a walk by Hamblin loaded the bases for clean-up hitter Monk Kreder.
Kreder took advantage of the situation with a base hit up the middle of the infield, scoring Leftridge and Johns and giving Howard a 3-1 lead.
The Hawks couldn't sustain the lead, though, as Santa Fe pushed two across in the bottom of the fourth to tie the game at 3-3.
Ryan Mathews led off the inning with a double to left center. Mathews scored two batters later when Jardian Thomas hit a two-out RBI double to down the right field line. Thomas tied the game when he crossed the plate via a base hit by Travis Yeckering, setting the stage for the dramatic final two innings.
With the win, Howard College finishes the season 63-1 — the best record ever by a World Series championship team at any level of collegiate baseball.
"I have never been around a group as special as this one," said Smith. "We lose 23 sophomores off this team and most of these guys were here for just one year. I'd love it if we could just start our own NCAA Division I program somewhere and keep them for another two years. It's a special group and I don't know that I'll ever be around another one like it."
Howard College 7, Santa Fe College 4
HC 102 000 001 3—7 11 1
SFC 100 200 001 0—4 13 1
Dylan Cacciola, Hunter Hill (9), Will Calhoun (9) and Miles Hamblin. Daley Cox, Andy Mee (8) and Brett Bozeman. W - Calhoun (2-0). L - Mee (0-1). 2B: HC - Joe Leftridge, Runey Davis; SFC - Keon Broxton, Ryan Mathews, Jardian Thomas. HR: HC - Andrew Collazo. SH: HC - Bryan Johns 2, Davis. RBI: HC - Collazo 3, Monk Kreder 2, Hamblin, Calhoun; SFC - Broxton, Mathews, Thomas, Travis Yeckering. SB: SFC - Tyler Cook.
By JONATHAN HULL
Big Spring Herald