By this time next month, East Texas Pump Jacks players will have arrived and will be preparing for a season opener on June 5 featuring fireworks and the TCL’s newest team, the Victoria Generals.
But if the Jacks’ season is almost upon us, that means college seasons across the country are entering their final weeks, and some have already entered the playoffs. And nowhere was the drama of playoff baseball more evident than Clinton, Miss., where UT-Tyler captured its first-ever American Southwest Conference postseason title.
Not that pitching coach and 2008 TCL Coach of the Year Stan Phelps didn’t have some anxious moments along the way. The Patriots entered Sunday needing to win two games against tournament host Mississippi College, who had defeated UT-Tyler on Saturday. UT-Tyler won the first game easily, 16-2, to force a nightcap that was delayed by weather.
The Patriots sent Matt Sparks to the mound for the decisive game, and Sparks delivered. He went six innings and allowed two runs on two hits, but entering the ninth inning, Mississippi held a 4-1 lead. UT-Tyler then exploded for seven runs in the top of the ninth – all of them with two outs – and held on for an 8-5 victory. The win not only gives the Patriots their first ASC playoff crown, but it clinches an automatic berth in the NCAA Division III tournament.
Paige Hodges went 2-for-5 in the deciding game with two runs, including a single and a run in the ninth inning. It capped a tournament in which Hodges batted .391 (9-for-23) with four runs scored, five RBI, and two home runs. In addition to Sparks and Hodges, former Pump Jacks James Alvarado and Clint Helms also saw action in the tournament.
Ben Taylor saw his Scottsdale Community College ride into the playoffs this weekend in convincing fashion. The Artichokes were the #2 seed in the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference Division II playoffs, facing off against Glendale. The ‘Chokes made quick work of their opponents, sweeping the three-game series with 3-2 and 7-6 victories. SCC, ranked #12 in the nation, will now battle top-seeded and #10-ranked Paradise Valley this weekend in a best-of-three series. The winner will capture the ACCAC D-II title and earn an automatic berth in the NJCAA D-II World Series.
The ACCAC also honored several future Pump Jacks last week, when the conference named all-region teams for both the D-I and D-II levels, as well as all-conference picks for both divisions combined. Brett Nicholas and Mike Petello were each named all-region and second-team all-conference, while T.J. Geith joined the pair on the all-region team. Nicholas batted .391 in the regular season, good for eight in the conference, while Petello batted .333. The two tied for fourth in the conference with seven homers and shared the team lead with 39 RBI. Geith went a team-best 7-2 with a 2.47 ERA, finishing among conference leaders in wins and ERA.
Last week, Pat McCrory made history; this weekend, he and his Embry-Riddle teammates took their first step toward history. After become the first player in school history to play all nine positions in a single game, McCrory led the Eagles into the Sun Conference postseason tournament. Embry-Riddle came in as the top seed following a second straight conference title, but the Eagles were tested by sixth-seeded Weber International. Embry-Riddle, now ranked #7 in the country, prevailed in 12 innings, 4-3. McCrory went 1-for-6 and scored the first run of the game.
The Red River Athletic Conference playoffs are under way, with Kyle Frasard and second-seeded Texas Wesleyan rolling through the first two rounds. Frasard is 2-for-4 so far in the postseason with four walks, three runs, and three RBI. The Rams will next face top-seeded Northwood on Monday, with the title game to follow Tuesday.
Coming back from an eight-day layoff, Rice returned to action by going 3-1 on the week, taking two out of three from cross-town and Conference USA rival Houston. Matt Reckling made two scoreless appearances out of the pen, including a dramatic ninth-inning save Sunday against Houston. The Cougars had already scored twice in the bottom of the ninth and the tying run stood on second when Reckling entered. He induced a groundout and then struck out the final batter to notch his second save of the season.
Stephen Tromblee traveled with Centenary College to North Dakota State and swept a four-game series against the Summit League foes. Tromblee tossed a complete game victory on Saturday, allowing just three runs on seven hits while striking out six. With the win, Tromblee improved to 5-1 on the season and lowered his ERA to 3.16, second-best in the conference. He also ranks among the league leaders in strikeout rate (7.89 per nine innings), opponents’ batting average (.248), and saves (3).
New Mexico endured a 1-4 week, hampering their case for the NCAA playoffs, but Justin Howard made a good showing. Howard batted .400 (6-for-15) with three runs and two RBI. He added a double and his third homer of the season. Howard has also proven his versatility, as the outfielder has recently become a fixture at first base for the Lobos.
Another club in the playoff mix is Manatee Community College, home of former Pump Jacks catcher Logan Moro. The Lancers posted a 36-14-1 record during the regular season, and with a 19-6 league record, captured the Suncoast Conference title. They open the Florida Community College Athletic Association tournament on Friday against Chipola. Moro hit six home runs and drove in 26 for Manatee in the regular season.
Sam Houston State stumbled to an 0-4 week, but don’t blame former Jacks for the slide. Daniel Nottebart got his second start in as many weeks, pitching five innings and allowing just one earned run on Tuesday against Dallas Baptist. Nottebart has improved his season ERA to 3.45, with former Pump Jack Matt Shelton, leading the Bearkats at 2.73. Adam De La Garza also returned to the starting lineup this weekend, going 2-for-7 (.286) in the series against Stephen F. Austin.
Free Season Tickets: That’s right, free! With players this season coming to East Texas from across the country, the team is actively searching for host families. Host families enjoy the opportunity to have a potential future major leaguer live with them, forging a bond that lasts a lifetime. As an added bonus, host families receive FREE season tickets for everyone in their household. Click here or contact the Pump Jacks for more information.
The 2009 season is scheduled to begin on Friday, June 5, when the Pump Jacks host the league’s newest team, the Victoria Generals. The 48-game regular season will run through August 8, to be followed by the playoffs and TCL Championship Series. Fans can download a copy of the team’s schedule by clicking here.
Season tickets are currently on sale, with ticket packages starting as low as $105 – and $85 for children and seniors – for all 24 regular season home games. Box seat season tickets are also available, including Lower Box seats, which feature in-your-seat wait service all game long, every game. For more information on Pump Jacks season tickets, click here or contact the Jacks office at (903) 218-GO ET.