Howard lives up to hype, tops Western Nevada in 11th

Howard’s Runey Davis crosses the plate Saturday after hitting a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 11th inning to give the Hawks a 4-3 victory over Western Nevada College in the opening game of the 2009 Alpine Bank Junior College World Series at Suplizio Field.

With so many chances, you knew somebody was going to get that big hit sometime.

Runey Davis was that somebody Saturday in the first game of the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series.

Davis hit a line shot over the left-field wall for a walk-off home run in the 11th inning, giving top-ranked Howard (Texas) College a 4-3 victory over Western Nevada College.

“We couldn’t get anything going and that’s not our baseball at all,” Davis said. “I think all the pressure is off now, we got the first one out of the way.”

Pressure? The Hawks have played with that all season, winning 57 consecutive games, a national record at any level. They lost the first championship game of the Southwestern District tournament to Temple College, then rallied with two out in the ninth to tie the next game, then winning the title in the 10th.

Saturday, they made five errors, were out-hit 13-5, but picked up win No. 59 in 60 games.

“With what we dealt with all season media-wise, I thought we’d be ready for the distractions,”
Howard coach Britt Smith said of the Hawks’ slow start Saturday. “We didn’t handle it very well early today and we got away from things that made us successful.”

Western Nevada (45-13) took a 2-0 lead in the third inning but could have had a much bigger one. Lance Ray walked to lead off the inning but was doubled off when Brian Barnett’s bid for a gap ball was run down in left-center by left fielder Joe Leftridge. By the time he tracked the ball down, Ray was around second heading for third and was an easy out back at first.

Travis Feiner followed with what would have been an RBI double.

Howard tied the game on two hits and two errors in the fourth, and when the Wildcats reclaimed the lead 3-2, Howard came right back and scored in the bottom of the fifth.

Western Nevada, which plays Iowa Western at 10 this morning in an elimination game, missed opportunities to break out in the first, fifth and ninth innings, leaving the bases loaded each time.

Despite getting 13 hits and Howard committing five errors, the Wildcats couldn’t get the runs home when they needed them.

“That’s what’s going to win you ballgames, when you cash in with the bases loaded,” Western Nevada catcher Jerome Pena said. “We had it in the first inning and again in like the seventh or eighth and didn’t get it done. They got the timely hits and we’ve got to give it up to them.”

Howard’s Zach Neal threw eight innings, allowing three runs on 12 hits, but really wasn’t ever in trouble.

“That’s kind of been our thing all year, we just battle to the end,” Neal said. “We made some defensive mistakes, but we hung with it and got a W. We had some chances to win earlier and didn’t get it done, but we came through at the end, which is good.”

Howard, which plays Shelton State (Ala.) Community College at 7:30 on Monday night, had a chance to win it in the 10th inning but B.J. Armstrong’s line drive to the right-field corner with runners on first and second was inches foul. He reached on a fielder’s choice, forcing the runner at second, and Will Calhoun was walked to load the bases.

Andrew Collazo attempted to squeeze the run home, but the pitch was high. He got his bat on it but popped into a double play.

“If we don’t have the squeeze on, he probably gets hit and we win the game,” Smith said. “We had the hit and run on and B.J. just misses within inches of ending the game. It’s just part of it.

“It’s been exciting, to say the least.”


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