By Teresa Flores
After escaping elimination with a victory over the Galveston Whitecaps (6-0), the Northeast Eagles faced the San Jacinto Gators on Sunday night. Despite the Eagles best efforts, the Gators’ late runs in the bottom of the ninth inning sent Northeast home with their second loss in a nail biter, dashing their hopes of returning to the JUCO World Series.
“It’s a little disappointing when you lose, but we’re so excited and proud of the guys. They really played hard and really well and represented the school in such a great way,” Head Baseball Coach Josh Stewart said. “Til the final out, they gave every single thing they had, and that’s really special for the school and the program. I think they really understand what a great program it is, and they just want to leave their legacy as well. We couldn’t have done any better. We couldn’t have been any more proud of the guys. I couldn’t have asked anything else differently from any of them. Our coaching staff performed flawlessly. We’re ready to get back to work and win it next year.”
Assistant Coach Austin Knight shared Stewart’s sentiment about the overall performance of the team in the regional tournament. “I think our whole coaching staff will agree that we couldn’t be more proud of them for their effort, their attitude, and the way they handled a lot of adversity that we faced,” Knight said. “They didn’t quit and gave us everything they had, and that’s all that we can ask. It’s kind of cliche, but I felt like they really believed that we were going to win the whole thing. We had a couple of calls not go our way, but you could just see it in their eyes that they really believed that they were going to win and they stuck together.”
The game against San Jacinto started off with the first two innings of the game going scoreless as both teams failed to put runs on the board. It wasn’t until the bottom of the third that San Jacinto scored.
The Eagles quickly answered back at the top of the fourth. Shortstop Christian Padin advanced to first on a fielder’s choice then player Carlos Roman singled to shortstop. Austin Griffin’s walk to first loaded up the bases leaving Johnnuelle Ponce at the plate to bat for the Eagles. Ponce, with a double down the third base line, was able to bring Padin and Roman home and forced one of many Gator pitching changes. With only two outs, a single to right field by Garrett Douglas allowed 2 RBIs and put the Eagles over 4-1.
However, a Gator home run early on in the bottom of the fourth cut the Eagles lead down to two. Eagles pitcher Tim Winders allowed a hit by San Jacinto’s Max Wood and a walk for Gonzalo Sosa placing them on second and first. After a single down right field by Austin Boyd sent Wood home, the Eagles put new pitcher David Sanchez on the mound. The Gators were able to tie the game after Eric Garza grounded out to shortstop and pushed Sosa to home.
Northeast took the lead in the game once more with another 2 RBIs by Ponce in the fifth inning, strengthening their lead 6-4. Sanchez’s quick three outs polished off the bottom of the fifth.
The sixth inning and top of the seventh left players on base for both teams as the teams struggled to score any runs. After another pitching change for the Eagles in the bottom of the seventh, Oscar Meuris inherited the game with bases loaded. On a wild pitch, Gators’ Walker Pennington walked after being hit by the ball, giving the team a one-run deficit. Meuris managed to strike out another player and allowed one hit.
Seeing another runless inning in the eighth for both teams, Eagles player Griffin advanced to first base in the top of the ninth with his ground ball up the center. The Eagles faced their first out after Ponce’s ground ball helped Griffin advance to second. Searching for another run, Dayne Sommer’s line drive hit up right field put both him and Griffin on the corners. With a full count, Douglas was able to give the Eagles a two-run lead with his hit up center field.
After the Gators’ Kyle Barfield walked to first with a hit by the ball, Dalton Algiene stepped in to pitch for the Eagles. Algiene allowed two more walks, juicing up the bases. Brenden Keany took Algiene’s place on the mound after another pitching change. Gators’ Wood single cut their deficit down to 7-6 as Barfield picked up a run. With bases still loaded, Sosa advanced to first on a fielder’s choice as the Gators tied the game with a run by Josh Palacios. Keany recorded the loss for the Eagles as the Gators’ Brett Wright grounded out to first base and Pennington scored the game-winning run.
Although the Eagles were knocked out of the playoffs in such a close game, the team didn’t give up on their dreams of returning to the JUCO World Series easily.
“We’ve played the best baseball we’ve played all year. We gave it our all, and we hoped for a better outcome,” Eagles right fielder Tristan Graham said. “A lot of things happened in those games that were out of our control, and we definitely deserved to win the whole tournament. We were the best there, no doubt about it.”
Though, the team’s attitude and efforts didn’t go unnoticed. “We just received numerous compliments from people outside of our team that were at the tournament, hosting the tournament, and other fans that just really complimented our guys on the way they acted and the way they played,” Stewart said. “It was really awesome to hear that we played so well, so classy and so hard.”
As for what the future holds for the program next fall, Knight said their recent trip to the regional tournament should have a positive effect on the upcoming season. “I think the freshman coming back next fall have tasted what it takes to win and to compete in that tournament and have played in that stadium and seen the teams that we’re going to play,” Knight said. “They can hopefully carry over a work ethic on a whole other level, knowing what it takes, and hopefully that will spill over into the incoming freshman.”
The Eagles hopes of going to the World Series might have been cut short, but one thing’s for sure, it made an impression on the players’ lives.
“I felt like we did really well and showed everybody what we were made of,” Pitcher Cristian Alvarez said. “We came up a little short, but it’s something I’m going to remember for the rest of my life.”