Howard leaves little doubt in rout of Western Nevada
Zach Neal knows how to deal.
The Howard (Texas) College starting pitcher had 10 strikeouts and no walks Thursday night as Howard dominated in an 11-3 seven-inning win over Western Nevada College at the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series.
“You have to be really aggressive with (Western Nevada),” Neal said. “I had to raise my game tonight because they are really good two-strike hitters and will fight at every at-bat.”
Western Nevada was eliminated from the tournament after Neal’s performance helped put Howard into tonight’s
7:30 p.m. championship game with Santa Fe.
If Santa Fe wins, the two teams meet again Saturday night.
“We are going to have to come out and compete,” Howard coach Britt Smith said. “Santa Fe is one of the hottest teams in the country right now, we’re playing a team that expects to win.”
While it will be the first time Howard plays the Saints, the Hawks’ game against Western Nevada was a rematch from opening game of the tournament. The first time around, Howard needed a walk-off home run from Runey Davis to get by the Wildcats in extra innings.
Thursday night, the Hawks didn’t leave any doubt, peppering 13 hits against Western Nevada’s pitchers.
“We wanted to come out and not try to do too much,” Howard lead off hitter Joe Leftridge said. “We had to do us, and that’s being aggressive.”
Howard’s offense improved on a five-hit, four-run performance the first time against the Wildcats by jumping on Western Nevada starter David Carroll early.
The Hawks scored three runs in the top of the first inning, as Miles Hamblin, Caleb Nine and Will Calhoun all hit RBI singles.
The Wildcats responded in the bottom of the first as Travis Feiner hit a two-run home run, which not only cut the Hawks lead to 3-2, but also set the tournament record for home runs at 59.
Howard continued to put pressure on as Leftridge hit a solo home run in the second inning.
Leftridge finished the day 3 for 5 with two RBI.
“Once I get on base, its sets the tone for the whole team,” Leftridge said.
In the bottom of the third inning, Western Nevada was threatening with the bases loaded and two outs when catcher Jerome Peña hit a deep fly ball to center field.
Davis then ripped the Wildcats’ hearts out again. The Howard center fielder made a spectacular catch to preserve the Hawks’ lead.
“Runey is a game changer, and that was an incredible play,” Neal said with a smirk. “I don’t think he had to dive for it, but he likes to showboat a little bit.”
Western Nevada’s Carroll threw a complete six-inning shutout in his first start against Iowa Western, but was taken out in the fourth inning by the Hawks.
Howard added three runs in the fourth as Bryan Johns and Monk Kreder hit RBI singles.
In the top of the fifth inning, Davis added to Howard’s lead with an RBI double to drive in Andrew Collazo.
Leftridge drove Davis in on a RBI single.
Howard added runs in the sixth and seventh innings to clinch the game.
“Momentum was huge,” Smith said. “We seized it, and didn’t let them get it back.”