Fans line streets of Big Spring to cheer JUCO champions

Howard College head coach Breitt Smith with the JUCO World Series trophy.

It’s hard to fathom what the Howard (Texas) College baseball team did in 2009.

The Hawks won 63 games, only losing once on their way to the NJCAA Division I national championship.

At last week’s Alpine Bank Junior College World Series, Howard did what it had done all season — win.

Howard did what everyone assumed couldn’t be done. The Hawks had a 54-0 regular season, and turned it into a 63-1 national championship season. They won 57 games in a row, the longest winning streak in college baseball at any level.

During the seven-day tournament, the Hawks’ games always had an aura of excitement, and Howard never disappointed.

Howard outscored its opponents 41-25 and all of its games but one was decided by three or fewer runs.

“Our pitching was fantastic all year,” Howard coach Britt Smith said. “We built this team around our pitching.”

Howard returned to Big Spring on Sunday and was greeted by a police escort.

“It was amazing,” Smith said. “It was pouring down (rain), and we had people lining the streets welcoming us. We went to our coliseum and had a celebration there.”

Smith said as the group made its 15-hour trek back to Texas, the Hawks reflected more about what happened off the field than on it.

“People went out of their way to make us feel like home,” Smith said. “It was really special and we talked more about that than the baseball side of things.”

Here’s a recap of how Howard won it all:

In Game 1 against Western Nevada, the Hawks went 11 innings before Runey Davis’ walk-off home run gave them a 4-3 victory.

In Monday’s fireworks game against Shelton State, Howard allowed the Bucs to tie the game at 4-4 in the top of the seventh inning. In what became a trend, the Hawks responded with three runs in the bottom of the seventh, including another big hit by Davis, who gave Howard its 7-4 win with an RBI triple.

After a day off, Howard took on cross-state rival San Jacinto College-North. Not only was it an all-Texas matchup, but one between undefeated teams in the tournament.

Howard struck first when Monk Kreder hit a two-run home run. In the sixth, Howard came with its usual offensive push, scoring five runs to give the Hawks a 12-9 lead.

San Jacinto attempted to ruin the Hawks’ perfect tournament when Jeff Abt hit a two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth to pull within one, 12-11. The Gators were set up perfectly for the win with no outs and the top of the order coming up.

Howard pitcher Will Calhoun retired the next three batters.

Next was a rematch with Western Nevada on Thursday.

This time, Howard’s Zach Neal held Western Nevada to three runs in an 11-3 win.

Championship night turned out to be a special one, with one of the closest and most well-played title games in recent years.

Santa Fe took a 3-1 lead in the third. Howard didn’t wait too long to respond, tying the game 3-3 in the fourth.

Howard shortstop Andrew Collazo earned his Preston Walker Most Valuable Player award in the ninth inning with a solo home run to left field.

In the bottom of the ninth, Santa Fe’s Keon Broxton tied the game at 4-4 when he hit an RBI double to the gap in right-center.

In the top of the 10th, Howard added three runs, then let Calhoun shut down the Saints in the bottom of the 10th for the win.

“To play as bad as we did in the first two games and be undefeated, we knew it was our time,” Smith said. “For us, it was never the same guy, it was always someone
different coming through.”


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