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Baseball makes breakthrough in final 2 games at Houston

By MIKE MONTFORT   —

HOUSTON — A 4-3, 10-inning loss Friday to Odessa. A few hours later against Baton Rouge, a 4-0 lead in the fifth got away.  The frustration from an 0-5 start laced with tough one-run losses was mounting.

Finally, coach Matt Podjenski’s Bulldogs wiped it all away by winning their final two games of the San Jacinto College Tournament of Champions.

Navarro discovered that winning edge with significant wins Saturday over New Mexico Junior College (7-6) and again Sunday over Alvin Community College (2-0).

NC, fresh from a 2-2 weekend in games at four Houston-area ballparks, now welcomes the Grayson Vikings for a 2 pm, nine-inning game Wednesday here at Perry D. Graham Field, weather permitting.  Grayson, like Navarro, was one of six teams that went 2-2 during the weekend in the 16-team Tournament of Champions.

Success snowballed for the Bulldogs, and particularly for the pitching staff during an extremely warm February weekend.  Navarro pitching finished the tournament with a streak of 17.1 consecutive scoreless innings. The Bulldog offense used homers to scratch all the way back from a six-run, first-inning deficit to NMJC and win Saturday.  On Sunday, the Bulldogs went small, took advantage of two errors of pickoff moves by starter Andrew Wood, and manufactured a couple of unearned runs that stood up against Alvin.  They’ve found ways to win.

Saturday:  Navarro 7, NMJC 6
At the University of Houston’s Schroeder Park,  Robert Salazar went 4-for-4, scored three runs, homered and knocked in 4 to lead the Bulldogs’ 10-hit attack.

Salazar singled in the second and sixth, slugged a three-run homer in the third that pulled NC within 6-4, and also doubled in the fifth inning.

Francisco Dejesus poked a fifth-inning, solo home run that inched Navarro within 6-5.  Dejesus walked twice and scored twice.

Scott Hastings doubled and tripled in 4 at bats and knocked in the Bulldogs’ other two runs.  Hastings’ one-out, fifth-inning double delivered the game-tying run.

Salazar’s one-out single to centerfield in the bottom of the sixth played Layton Wolver with what proved to be the game-winning run.  Wolver was 2-for-5 and scored twice for NC.

The Thunderbirds scored six off NC starter Tate Gillespie in the first.  They racked the righthander for seven hits in two-thirds of an inning — including back-to-back homers from Jesse Becton and Ryan Rijo and a run-scoring double by Jose Avina.

Down 6-0, NC relief pitchers Brady Mehl, Paul Dickens and Eric Sandoz combined for 8.1 innings of shutdown brilliance.  Mehl (3.1 IP), Dickens (2.2), and Sandoz (2.1) combined on a four-hit shutout with nine strikeouts.

Sunday:  Navarro 2, Alvin 0
At Phillips Field in Alvin, four Navarro pitchers scattered nine hits and turned away repeated scoring threats by the Dolphins.

Starting lefthander Ivan Ulloa and relievers Dalton Blake, Mark Geisel and Asher Cook combined on the shutout.  Ulloa threw 64 pitches in six innings, surrendering only six hits while striking out five.  Cook, an Austin freshman, earned his first save.

NC scored single runs in the third and the fifth in identical style.

Second baseman Matt Wood walked, advanced to third on lefthander Andrew Wood’s errant pickoff throw, and scored the game’s first run on DH Derek Mueller’s single to rightfield.

In the fifth, Mueller reached on a one-out single, advanced to third on another wild pickoff move, and scored on Beau Orlando’s 4-3 grounder to Jean Paul Correa.

Correa, the younger brother of Houston Astros’ shortstop Carlos Correa, went 0-for-4 at the plate Sunday against Navarro pitching.

It was Orlando’s defense that helped extricate Ulloa and Navarro from some problems in the fifth inning.  Orlando turned a 4-3 double play that away the Dolphins’ one-out, bases-loaded threat.

With two out in the bottom of the seventh, Geisel inherited runners at second and first from Blake, but Geisel retired pinch hitter Ryan Benavides on a 3-1 grounder to end that rally.

Rightfielder Josh Ragan’s running catch retired Matthew Merino, enabling Geisel to successfully fight out of a bases-loaded, two-out jam in the eighth.