A showdown of the final two unbeaten teams of the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series was a Texas-sized affair.
McLennan Community College (Texas) wasted little time establishing Lone Star State supremacy Wednesday, even if the Highlanders had to hold on for dear life late.
Mason Greer drove in McClennan’s first run in the first inning, and his three-run home run to center in the third was a key moment in the fourth-seeded Highlanders (45-16) scoring five runs in back-to-back innings, holding on from there to defeated third-seeded San Jacinto College-North (Texas) 13-10.
"We've been hitting really well all season," Greer said. "Up and down the lineup, we were feeling good, and our pitching staff pitched really well. We were all able to relax and go do our thing."
Tied 1-1 in the third, Dominic Tamez doubled deep to right field, scoring Miguel Santos and Blake Jackson home to give McLennan a 3-1 lead. That’s when Greer, whose two-out single in the first produced the game’s first run, launched his home run, making it 6-1.
The Gators (51-13) responded with three runs in the bottom frame on RBI singles by Mason Auer and Chase Adkison, followed by a sacrifice fly by Sabin Ceballos to plate Mason Lytle.
The Highlanders immediately widened the gap, though. In the third at-bat of the fourth inning, Jackson crushed the ball to right field for a two-run home run, extending the lead to 8-4.
"I just got a pitch and hit it," Jackson said. "I think our team was just trying to find some energy. We were all excited to be here and we just needed anything to spark us and get us going. We just needed to keep the bats hot from previous games and we came ready to play."
Jackson’s long ball was the launching point for another five-inning inning for McLennan. Garrett Martin scored on a throwing error at first base and two runs scored on a single by Alex Lopez, stretching the Highlanders' advantage to 11-4.
Lopez scored on an error in the sixth when Jaylen William’s two-out drive to right-center field was dropped, making it a 12-5 game.
San Jacinto rallied with a five-run eighth inning. Auer smashed a two-run home run cut the deficit to 12-7 and the Gators then loaded the bases with no outs. Alan Shibley, Jordan Williams and Austin Roccaforte drove in runs to trim McLennan's lead to 12-10, but that would be as close as San Jac would come, as Jack Williams struck out Warren Laster to strand two runners in scoring position to end the inning.
Santos scored from third base on a wild pitch in the top of the ninth to provide a little more breathing room for McLennan's final three outs.
"I thought we competed very well", said Auer, who led San Jacinto with four hits. "I thought we never gave up when we were down, because we were down by a lot at the beginning there, and I feel like the thing we need to do better is not leaving the ball over the plate as much. We need to control the game better and control the pace and not lose it."
One factor that benefited the Highlanders was their familiarity with San Jacinto. The teams faced off three times in non-district play this season, with two of the three going to McLennan. The Highlanders won 17-8 on Jan. 30 and 11-9 on April 12, with the Gators winning the teams' March 8 meeting, 6-0.
"We knew coming into this game, 'We can beat this team, we can beat this team,' " Jackson said. "We just have the confidence, we've been playing well, and if we play our baseball, it doesn't matter who we're playing. We'll come out on top."
"We beat them in two out of three this year and, like Blake said, if we play our best baseball, we can beat anybody," Greer added. "You have to respect your opponent, too. San Jac's a really good team and we had to do everything we could to beat them tonight."