T-Birds win 40th game, claim WJCAC title
Coming into the final series of the regular season, the New Mexico Junior College baseball team needed to win one game to with the Western Junior College Athletic Conference title. The Thunderbirds dropped the first game 9-7, but won the nightcap 13-3 to secure two things, a 40-win season and the WJCAC title.
“The way that they came out the second game, you could tell that the dugout was more loose,” NMJC assistant coach Jake McCarter said. “They just went out and played on what they do best and that is what got them here. For us to do it and the way that we did it, with the rune-rule, just shows the character of this team. It was an epic moment, especially to do it at home on our home turf.”
The last time the T-Birds won the WJCAC was in 2014 when NMJC finished the season 34-24. The last time NMJC recorded a 40-win season was in 2015 when the T-Birds went 41-20.
“They were ecstatic. You could tell that it was a burden lifted off their shoulders, especially for the sophomores,” McCarter said. “You could tell after the first game that it almost felt like they were playing not to lose instead of playing to win. I just told them in-between games to just go out and play with what got them here and trust their instincts and to basically, compete as hard as they can one pitch at a time. If they did that, the outcome would be what they wanted it to be and I was extremely proud of them.”
As the WJCAC champions, NMJC (40-15, 27-9) will have the top seed in the NJCAA Region V Tournament. The T-Birds will play the No. 4 seed from the North Texas Junior College Athletic Conference on Friday, May 11 at Airhog Stadium in Grand Prairie, Texas.
The T-Birds jumped out to an early lead in the nightcap, scoring four times in the second. Over the next two innings, the teams traded runs. Howard plated one in the third and two in the fourth while NMJC scored two in the third and fourth, pushing its lead to 8-3. The T-Birds scored four more runs in the fifth, extending their lead to 12-3. The T-Birds won the game via mercy on Jake Dickerson’s RBI single in the bottom of the sixth.
“It couldn’t have happened to a better kid,” McCarter said of Dickerson. “He answers the bell each and everyday. His work ethic and his work habits and the way he practices and takes pride in his craft, for him to go out the way he did was icing on the cake.”
Dickerson was 4-for-4 with a triple, three runs, and two RBI. Rody Barker went 3-for-4 with a home run, two RBI, and two runs scored. Soterio Ramirez, Daniel Hernandez, and Joab Gonzalez all had two hits. Ramirez had a homer, a double, and scored three times while Gonzalez had a run scored and drove in two.
Tristan Stivors threw a complete game and got the win. Stivors pitched six innings, allowing three runs on three hits and three walks. He gave up one homer while striking out eight.
“He did awesome. I could tell after the first inning that he had really good stuff and that it was going to be a good day for him,” McCarter said. “He had a lot of confidence in all his pitches. You talk about for a freshman to go out and do what he did, it says a lot.”
In the opener, Howard (35-19, 26-10) struck first, opening the game with a home run. The T-Birds answered back quickly though, scoring twice in the bottom of the first for a 2-1 lead. That would be NMJC’s only lead of the game.
With the help of another home run, this time a two-run shot, and a two-run triple, Howard scored five times in the top of the third to take a 6-2 lead. NMJC climbed back into the game in the bottom of the frame on Jake Dickerson’s three-run homer. The T-Birds then scored again in the bottom of the fourth to knot the game up at 6-6.
Unfortunately for the T-Birds, catcher Rody Barker’s errant throw to first, with a runner on, allowed the runner to score and put another runner on third. Then, Barker was charged with a passed ball allowing another run to score. With two outs in the inning, Howard College hit its third homer of the game, giving the Hawks a 9-6 lead.
The T-Birds scored their final run in the bottom of the sixth when Joab Gonzalez led off the inning with a solo blast to left.
New Mexico Junior College out-hit Howard College 10-5. Avery Tuck, Dickerson, and Barker each had two hits for NMJC. Dickerson was 2-for-4 with a homer, three RBI, and a run scored. Tuck was 2-for-4 with a run and an RBI while Barker was 20for-4 with a run scored. Gonzalez finished the game 1-for-2 with a homer, a walk, two runs scored, and an RBI.
Carlos Ortiz took the loss, throwing 130 pitches over six innings. He allowed nine runs, six of which were earned, on five hits and six walks. He struck out seven and served up three homers.