By MIKE MONTFORT —
Coach Matt Podjenski pushed all the right buttons and came up with the right combinations Thursday.
Like them or not, he had to make them because situations dictated in the team game of baseball.
First, two injured middle infielders still were unavailable and sophomore starting third baseman Robert Salazar had been felled by sickness, leaving NC’s infield shorthanded. As a result, the Navarro coach had no other alternative on March 16 than to remove a redshirt from Flower Mound Marcus freshman Dawson Shelburn, certify him, throw him into the starting lineup and bat him seventh.
Second, Podjenski has lots of willing, ready and mostly sophomore options to rotate through first base, designated hitter and pinch-hitter positions and in situational changes. During the fifth inning of a 2-2 tie after a Paris pitching change, ‘Pudge’ selected left-handed hitting Collin Chaney as the pinch-hitting, mid-game replacement for right-hand hitting starting first baseman Bobby Lopez and it paid off with big results.
Even the move of DH Jacob Walker from leadoff Monday to the No. 6 hole in his second game back from injury worked like a charm.
The team never flinched.
Navarro (13-10-1, 7-0) won its fifth straight game and eighth in nine by ripping 14 hits on its way to a 9-4 series-opening victory over the Paris Dragons.
Shelburn ripped the redshirt off only to expose a Superman ‘S’ across his chest. He settled right in from the first play when he raced in to field leadoff hitter Chad Paris’ attempted bunt-base hit and threw out the runner at first. Shelburn turned five chances of varying difficulty into five putouts, went 1-for-3 at the plate with two hard-hit balls and walked.
Meanwhile, in three plate appearances, Chaney drilled bases-loaded singles to centerfield in the fifth-inning to plate the go-ahead runs, and again in the eighth for the final two to insure the win. Chaney, who had been 8-for-29 in 15 games, more than doubled his RBI total by driving in a team-high four runs.
Playing only his second game of the season, Walker responded with a 3-for-4 afternoon, doubled and scored twice from a lower spot in the batting order.
Sophomore starting pitcher Gary Watkins got credit for the victory, his second in as many starts. The hard-luck right hander worked at least five innings in five earlier no-decisions, but has broken through with wins over Northeast Texas (4-0) and Paris. Watkins threw 85 pitches in 5.2 innings, surrendered four hits and one walk and struck out six.
Sophomore Mark Geisel fashioned 2.1 innings of one-hit shutout relief while striking out three.
Freshman Asher Cook came in to work the ninth with Navarro leading, 9-2.
With the win, Navarro extended its early East Zone leadership to three games over second-place Panola.
In other Region XIV East Zone single games Thursday, Northeast Texas defeated Panola, 6-4, and Angelina scored a 9-8 win over Bossier Parish on a walkoff homer from Nate Miranda.
EXTRA INNINGS….Paris ranks fifth nationally in stolen bases (71 in 85 attempts), with leadoff hitter Chad Paris (16/20), JT vanGelder (13/14) and Thomas Jeffries (12) atop the Dragons’ leaderboard. Thursday, those three hitters were kept off the basepaths. They went a combined 3-for-12 (.250), and vanGelder got his hit with two out in the eighth, trailing 9-2….Beau Orlando was hit-by-pitch twice Thursday, raising his team-high total to 8….Noah Menchaca, second on the club in HBP (5), leads the squad in sacrifice hits (8)….Walk-to-strikeout ratios: Braden Williams with 24/20 and Collin Chaney, 14/8, with injured Layton Wolver (9/6) and Matt Wood (8/5)….Likely starters in Saturday’s doubleheader are lefthander Ivan Ulloa and righthander Tate Gillespie….Ulloa carries a streak of 11 scoreless innings in 2 conference wins, yielding only 4 hits and 2 walks with 10 strikeouts during the timeframe….