The 2020 Crowder College baseball team was destined to accomplish greatness.
Due to COVID-19, the Roughriders never even got the chance to play for a championship.
“Around here, we talked about team 56 and (last year’s) team 55 didn’t have a shot,” Crowder coach Travis Lallemand said.
For team 56, a roster that consists of a number of holdovers from last spring’s club, delivered one year later. On Saturday afternoon, No. 6 Crowder captured the Region 16 championship with a 4-2 triumph over Jefferson at Joe Becker Stadium.
“This was for them,” Lallemand said. “All of the guys on that team. It’s very, very special to have these guys step up the way they did.”
The Roughriders (49-6) advance to the NJCAA Division I South Central District Championship, which runs from May 21-23 at the Region 2 (Oklahoma) champion. Region 23 (Mississippi) is the third team in the field, and the winner advances to the World Series in Grand Junction, Colorado.
“Last year, it got taken away from us,” catcher Jack Stroth said. “Everybody had their season taken, but I feel like we really had something special going. This year, we have something really special going. I’m excited to see where this is going to lead to.”
Before the postgame celebration and dogpiles, James Hicks took Saturday’s game by storm.
The right-hander, from Conway, Arkansas, showed everyone why he’s headed to pitch for one of the top NCAA Division I programs in the country.
Hicks (10-1) struck out nine batters in a dominant 8 1/3 innings. He allowed two runs on 10 hits and issued no walks.
“That was the best he has been all year,” Lallemand said. “He’s been really, really good, but I haven’t seen him that dominant this year. He tuned up for the right situation and got it done for us. That’s why he’s going to South Carolina.”
And Hicks certainly didn’t feel a near-complete game would be the outcome pregame.
“My bullpen wasn’t great,” Hicks said. “I went out with the mindset to make my pitches and let my defense work behind me. Luckily, I found it once I was out there. I got a better feel for my off-speeds. I started spotting up more. The fastball was huge. That was my main outpitch. That played a big part in it.”
After the Vikings struck first with a run in the second, the Roughriders responded with three in the bottom of the third.
Stroth belted a solo shot off Jefferson starter Jean Gonzalez that landed in the left-field bleachers to get things going. Peyton Holt and Gavin Glasgow added run-scoring groundouts each to increase the cushion to two.
Two innings later, Crowder gave Hicks more run support when Holt deposited a ball over the short right-field wall for an opposite-field solo home run, giving the Roughriders a 4-1 advantage.
At that point, Hicks was in cruise control. He retired 19 of the last 24 batters he faced before departing after a one-out single to Joe Hamilton in the ninth.
Gideon Antle smacked an RBI triple in the eighth for the Vikings, trimming the deficit to 4-2. Jefferson threatened to make it a one-run game when Matt Schark lifted a flyball to medium center field for a potential sacrifice fly, but first baseman Glasgow received a strong throw from Clayton Gray and cut down Antle trying to retreat back to third base for a double play.
“Our alignments were perfect,” Lallemand said. “The first baseman came over and learned that position this spring. To see that executed properly in that situation, it goes back to those 54 games we played before this. He’s in a great position. We made a great throw. That was huge. They had all the momentum going for them right there.”
Lallemand went to reliever Conner Floyd to close it out. The right-hander worked around a hit batsman with a pair of strikeouts to notch the save.
Holt, Stroth and Gray paced Crowder’s eight-hit attack with two hits each.
Gonzalez (1-1) allowed three runs on six hits through 3 1/3 innings for Jefferson (20-25). Joe Hamilton went 3 for 4 with a run scored.
The Roughriders’ hard-hitting offense has been their calling card all season, but the pitching came through at Joe Becker. Crowder’s arms allowed only four runs (three earned) in three games, posting a 1.08 ERA.
“It’s kind of hidden behind the offense because the offense is so good,” Hicks said. “We got great starters. Once it gets to the bullpen, it’s pretty much game over. We are not done yet, though. We are going to get back after it and take over districts.”