By MIKE MONTFORT —
GRAND PRAIRIE — Navarro baseball’s power run through the Region XIV Tournament stopped short of a Grand Junction ending as San Jacinto defeated the Bulldogs 17-9 in Tuesday’s championship game at AirHog Stadium.
Coach Matt Podjenski’s club, beaten twice in the 2017 double-elimination tournament by the three-time champion Gators, saw a three-game winning streak end and finished their season at 32-25-1. Second-seeded Navarro’s East Zone runners-up scored 55 runs on 55 hits during the six-game tournament grind that saw them go 4-2.
After San Jacinto shut out the Bulldogs 6-0 for a second time this season and sent them spiraling into the elimination bracket, Navarro’s offense went into survival and protection modes and kicked it into high gear with a couple of tournament-record-setting performances. Over their final 32 innings of play, the Bulldogs totaled 11 innings in which they scored 3 or more runs.
To begin their bounceback Monday, they lashed out in a pair of four-hour games. They took down South Zone second-seed Galveston, 9-6, in 90-degree afternoon heat. Then, at 9:35 pm — some 95 minutes after an elimination game originally had been scheduled to start — the Bulldogs unleashed record-making efforts the likes that the tournament had not seen in the 21-year history of its format.
Navarro pounded East Zone fourth-seed Paris 18-11 — a game that established a tournament single-game record for runs scored (29), eclipsing the mark of 27 from 2006 when Blinn defeated Navarro, 18-9, in a similar Game 12 elimination-bracket matchup. Of course, Navarro’s 18 runs Monday also equaled Blinn for the most runs scored by a one team.
By the 1:35 am Tuesday finish after NC buzzed through 7 PJC pitchers and Dragon coach Clay Cox had been ejected, leftfielder Caleb Scires and third baseman Robert Salazar topped the hitting stars and accumulated a combined 13 bases in the contest.
Scires went 3-for-6, scored three runs, smacked his fourth home run of the season and knocked in a team-high 4 runs. Salazar went 4-for-6 at the plate with three doubles, scored two runs and delivered three RBI.
Reliever Eric Sandoz, working for the third straight game, was the only untouchable pitcher of a combined 11 who traipsed to the mound and faced nighttime target practice. For three-and-two-third innings, Sandoz remarkably hurled hitless relief in 42 pitches, walking only one batter.
Sandoz worked longer and more effectively than another pitcher in the game, but Navarro freshman starter Brady Mehl might get an honorable-mention star in the category. Mehl, making only his third straight of the year in his 12th appearance, managed to give the Bulldogs 3.1 innings before departing after surrendering five hits, one walk and three earned runs.
Twelve hours later, the Bulldogs returned to the scene and bombarded Angelina 14-1 in what might be described as a blessing-filled game ended after five innings by the 10-run rule.
Josh Ragan, Tim Bechtold and Francisco Dejesus each hammered three-run homers to lead Navarro’s 10-hit attack in support of starting pitcher Mark Geisel.
Geisel, a season-long reliever, was selected to become Navarro’s 8th starting pitcher of the year in this elimination contest. With the help of heavy hitting buddies, Geisel went a personal season-long five innings — a five-hitter in a complete game, as it turned out. The early finish gave everyone additional rest time, including another couple of hours of rest for the beleaguered pitching staff.
Navarro’s batting order, featuring Bechtold and Derek Mueller in their first tournament action, cycled through 9 or more hitters in the first three innings of play against Angelina. Inning by inning, it was a 6-5-3 start for a 14-0 lead and the Bulldogs coasted.
Against San Jacinto in the 5 pm championship game, the Bulldogs drew first blood by scoring five second-inning runs off starter Hunter McClellan — three coming on Mueller’s bases-loaded double.
However, the Gators defused the momentum, batted around in three innings, and amassed a total of 17 unanswered runs. Leftfielder Aaron Bond went 4-for-5, homered and drove in seven runs to lead San Jacinto.
Dejesus hit his team-high eighth home run of the season — a two-run shot during a four-run seventh for the Bulldogs.
The loss denied Navarro an opportunity to return to the JUCO World Series in Grand Junction, Col., and marked the end of two-year careers for 14 sophomores.
ADDITIONAL: FINAL 2017 NAVARRO BULLDOGS BASEBALL STATISTICS
Navarro’s Region XIV Baseball Tournament Photos here are the works of Keith Speer. Fans may access more of Mr. Speer’s galleries at Keith’s Sports Photos on Facebook. Thank you for your time and your effort, Keith!