McLennan, San Jac back in JUCO field

Mitch Thompson is batting .500 as the McLennan Community College (Texas) baseball coach when it comes to qualifying for the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series.

And he was just as excited Tuesday night as he was two years ago when the Highlanders qualified for the first time in more than 20 years.

“We’re so looking forward to seeing y’all again,” Thompson said after fourth-ranked McLennan, which spent time ranked No. 1 in the nation this season, won its fifth straight game Tuesday to claim the Southwestern District championship, 14-8 over Weatherford Community College.

“It was pretty challenging, and you know we’re not playing Sisters of the Poor,” Thompson said. “It was just these guys were warriors. Man, they set their jaws and kept fighting through it.”

The pressure was building, though, and a couple of early errors led to Weatherford taking a 6-0 lead.

“I had to call the guys together and say ‘Hey, take a breath, we’re OK. Let’s just play like we can. Let’s go,’ and they started chipping away. It was great,” said Thompson, who took over at McLennan in 2014, qualified for JUCO in 2015, but missed out last season. The Highlanders (51-11) went 19-0 in April.

“I’ll tell you what, after having been there the one time, I’ve been champing at the bit to be able to come back again,” he said. “I’m so happy these kids on this team get a chance to come experience it. They are absolutely the best group of kids you can hope for and they’re gonna come compete to win it.”

Both Texas teams qualified on Tuesday, with eighth-ranked San Jacinto College-North, last year’s national runner-up, rallying from five runs down to wallop Navarro 17-9 and go through the Southern District tournament undefeated.

A fielding error opened the door for Navarro to score five runs in the second inning, but San Jac tied it in the top of the third, added four in the fourth and five more in the fifth to take control.

As they did through the entire tournament, the Gators pounded the ball, finishing with 20 hits, which allowed them to overcome three errors.

Faulkner State (Alabama) held off Shelton State 5-4 and then defeated Wallace State-Dothan by the same score to force an if-necessary game for the Southeastern District title today.

Chattahoochee Valley, which placed third in the 2016 JUCO World Series, was eliminated Monday 13-4 by Shelton State.

Tuesday’s Texas qualifiers brings the tournament field to four, joining top-ranked Chipola College (Florida) and No. 6 Cowley College (Kansas).

Two other top-5 teams in this week’s final regular-season NJCAA Division I poll open district play this week, No. 2 Dyersburg State (Tennessee) and No. 3 Crowder College (Missouri).

Top-20 teams still in the running are No. 10 Harford Community College (Maryland),
No. 11 Southern Nevada, No. 17 Wabash Valley (Illinois) and No. 19 Indian Hills (Iowa). Four teams receiving votes are also playing in district tournaments, Arizona Western, Trinidad State, Delgado (Louisiana) and Florence-Darlington Tech (South Carolina).


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