Gritty Lewis sets tone for Navarro
Navarro (Texas) College third baseman Grayson Lewis had already spent the first nine innings making highlight plays on defense.
He racked up bruises and scrapes flying around the field, saving runs and keeping Navarro alive in an elimination-bracket game against Walters State (Tenn.) Community College.
It’s just the type of player he is.
So, when 6-foot-4 inch, 240-pound Tyler Brosius unleashed a slider over the right-handed batters box, what does Lewis do?
He takes it, right off the helmet, so he can score the game-winning run two batters later.
“I always get scraped up,” Lewis said. “I was just thinking I need to get on base. I didn’t care at all if it hit me in the head. I didn’t care at all.”
Scrappy plays sealed Navarro’s 7-5 victory in 10 innings over Walters State, keeping the Bulldogs alive in the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series on Sunday.
Lewis is a fighter, coach Whoa Dill said, and someone he’s come to expect will make the gritty plays.
“Grayson is one of those kids, he didn’t even start for us until probably April,” Dill said. “Since then, he’s been a dime. I mean, this kid just gets things going for us. He’s been playing lights out defensively. He’s a great defensive player. He has two brothers that know how to play, and he’s been playing at a high level. I’m so thankful that I get to have him back for next year.”
Lewis is known for practicing diving catches, crazy throws and his favorite play — the third-to-first double play — after practice.
Navarro shortstop Mason Salazar said Lewis’ style of play is contagious. After Lewis turned a 6-3 double play on a high chopper, it inspired the entire infield to put in extra effort.
“We all think of ourselves as dirt bags,” Salazar said. “It’s really the only way we play. Grayson is another key part of that. He’s stepped up when we need him, and I’m really proud of him.”
It was Salazar who drove in Lewis to seal the victory for Navarro.
After Salazar took two bunt attempts for balls, he noticed the Senators were running a wheel play, where the first baseman and third baseman charge the plate and the shortstop and second baseman cover the corners.
For the third pitch, he squared to bunt. Instead of following the play-call and dropping down the bunt, Salazar pulled the bat back. He slapped a ground ball where the shortstop used to be and plated Lewis.
Dill said he teaches his players to slash the ball when both corners crash.
“We actually talk about that exact situation in practice,” Dill said. “It’s one of those deals, where if they double crash, you have to slash. We tell them that every day, every day in practice, and at every game. There’s no way we can get a guy over without an absolutely perfect bunt. I’m glad Mason saw it when he pulled back, and it all worked out for us. That’s baseball sometimes.”
The two runs in the 10th inning were the final blow in a back-and-forth bout. Navarro scored a run in the second, and Walters answered in the third. Navarro scored a run in the fifth inning, Walters in the sixth.
Although the final counter-punch — a two-run Walters rally in the bottom of the ninth — rocked Navarro, Dill said he had faith in his squad against Senator starter Jay Gause and Brosius.
“(Gause) was probably the best guy we’ve seen in a long time, to be honest with you,” Dill said. “He’s throwing 94 miles per hour with a power breaking ball and a fantastic changeup. We handle velocity better than we handle slow guys, and once you see a guy that throws 90, the second or third time through, you start to get a feel for it. We started heating up as the game went on, and we were prepared when the reliever came in.
“We just turned out on the right side today. It was one of those games that if you were sitting in the stands, you saw a great game.”
Blake Griffin picked up the win in relief. Gage Curry went six innings in a no-decision. He gave up five hits, two earned runs, four walks, and he struck out five.
“Two errors is a lot for our team,” Curry said. “But I’m not surprised to see some of the amazing plays they made behind me today. We’re a defensive team and work hard at it.”
Gause took the loss. He went 6 1/3 innings, with two walks and four strikeouts. The Texas Rangers, other pro teams, and a handful of NCAA Division I baseball teams have expressed interest in Gause, and he said that despite exiting the JUCO World Series after only two games, the experience was one-of-kind.
“(It was a) great experience to be here,” Gause said. “I mean, 10 teams out of the nation (are) here. I’m glad to be with this group of kids here and wouldn’t battle with nobody else. I just hope I have a good future ahead of me, go to the draft or a D-I school. I’m undecided.
“Hopefully I’ll be drafted next week.”
Navarro advances to play Palm Beach State, which beat Kaskaskia 7-1 in Sunday’s other elimination game. The first pitch is today at 10 a.m.