BY MIKE MONTFORT —
MOUNT PLEASANT — The beat goes on for Navarro’s Bulldog baseball team, which swept its weekend series from Northeast Texas and extended its streak to 12 wins in its last 13 games, as the East Zone champions snowballed momentum toward the Region XIV Tournament.
The Bulldogs (35-20/23-7) will open tournament play at 8 pm Saturday in Lufkin against South Zone No. 4 seed Galveston (21-33) at the Larry Phillips Family Sports Complex.
First-round pairings for the five-day, double-elimination tournament were finalized Sunday.
Navarro clinched its third East Zone championship in four years on Wednesday as it crushed Northeast 11-3 in eight innings here. Then, the Bulldogs finished off the regular season with a doubleheader sweep of 6-3 games at Eagle Field that enabled them to win the league by a gaping, 5-game spread.
Opportunistic Panola took advantage of some Bulldog beneficence to vault over Northeast and become the East Zone’s second seed on Sunday when it defeated the Cavaliers 4-2 in a re-scheduled, final regular-season game.
Panola wasn’t the only Region XIV squad to alter seeding on the final weekend. Navarro’s first-round opponent, the Galveston Whitecaps, won three of four games from Wharton and used the head-to-head victory tiebreaker to seize fourth place and the tournament seed from the Pioneers.
Meanwhile, Navarro was taking care of business Saturday.
GAME 1: Navarro 6, Northeast 3
Sophomore rightfielder Josh Ragan homered in each of his first two at-bats and drove in five runs to support lefthander Paul Dickens, who became the second eight-game winner on the Bulldog pitching staff.
Ragan slugged a two-run, first-inning homer off Chandler Dean and added a three-run shot during the third. Ragan, who is 18-for-32 (.563) at the plate during a span in which he’s hit safely in eight of his last nine games, now leads the club in at-bats (183), home runs (11), runs-batted-in (56), hits (67), doubles (17), triples (4), extra-base hits (32), total bases (125), and slugging percentage (.683).
Dickens (8-2, 2.61) threw 85 pitches in four innings, yielded five hits, one walk and one earned run while striking out eight. In nine East Zone starts, Dickens went 6-0 with a 1.54 ERA, with three shutouts and 70 of his 91 strikeouts.
Tanner Riley and Pepper Jones worked in relief.
Navarro, with a .303 team batting average, continued its torrid hitting Saturday with nine hits. Derek Mueller, Ragan, and Scott Hastings each had multiple-hit games. Mueller, thrust into the leadoff slot again in an altered lineup, went 3-for-4 to lead the way.
Leftfielder Joseph Leal, designated hitter Connor Gage and catcher Justin Moore drew starts Saturday’s opener as coach Matt Podjenski rotated lineups in both games, resting regulars.
Dean, who took the loss for NTCC, allowed seven hits and six runs in five innings while striking out five.
GAME 2: Navarro 6, Northeast 3
First baseman Kyle Landers picked up where Ragan left off. Landers struck first- and seventh-inning homers and knocked in three runs to back the pitching of starter Cole Wesneski.
Navarro got two homers from Landers, and one from right fielder Wesley Powell, his first of the season, a solo that put Navarro ahead to stay in the fifth inning.
Northeast also slapped three round-trippers on the day, all solos: designated hitter Hunter Thomas (7) in the fourth, rightfielder Emmanuel Garcia (12) in the sixth, and shortstop Jhosmel Rodriguez (6) in the eighth.
Navarro’s second-game lineup included Landers in the field, Powell, shortstop Kalen Hammer and third baseman Zion Mayberry.
Wesneski threw 52 pitches in five innings of work, yielding four hits and an earned run. He got seven ground-ball outs during the first three innings of work.
Relievers Collin Storms, Johnny Panatex and Asher Cook came in from the bullpen and combined for four-hit relief. Cook entered in the ninth and struck out the side on 15 pitches to secure his eighth save of the season — tying his single-season team record from the 2017 season.