Beating the No. 1 ranked team in the NJCAA Division I polls seems to be a recurring trend at Crowder College these days.
Beating the No. 1 ranked team in the NJCAA Division I polls seems to be a recurring trend at Crowder College these days. The Lady ‘Riders softball team did it on Sunday when they swept top-ranked Butler Community College on the road, 3-1 and 14-4. Then the No. 13 Roughriders baseball team followed suit on Tuesday with a 5-2 victory over No. 1 Connors State at Roughrider Field.
The win for the Roughriders on Tuesday was big in more ways than one. Sure, it’s always a big win anytime you knock off the consensus No. 1, but it’s the way the Roughriders did it that made it even better for them.
Dating back to last week, and perhaps even prior to that, the Roughriders had been encountering teams that attempted to pitch backwards against them. In other words, opposing pitchers would throw breaking balls and offspeed pitches early in counts, and throw fastballs later in breaking ball counts in an effort to keep the Roughriders off-balance. So on a recent off day, Roughriders coach Travis Lallemand called a practice and emphasized the need for his batters to be patient, stay back on the ball and drive their pitch when they get it.
“That happened to us our last series against (Jefferson College) and we figured it might happen again tonight,” Roughriders coach Travis Lallemand said.
Indeed, it happened. Only this time the Roughriders made the proper adjustments, and made the Cowboys pay as they pieced together a big fifth inning to chase starter Connor Garcia and put themselves in the driver’s seat for good.
Trailing 2-1 entering the bottom of the fifth, the Roughriders got the ball rolling with two outs when Ryan Lazo blooped a pop up into short center for a hit and raced to second on the play when both middle infielders converged on the ball and left second base unoccupied. His double sparked a meltdown for Connors State, as Ty White drew a walk before Chris Scroggins strung together a quality at-bat and served a single into center to score Lazo and tie it 2-2.
It was at that time that Casey Vaughan, one of Crowder’s hottest hitters of late, stepped to the dish and plugged the gap in left center for a two-run double to give the Roughriders a 4-2 advantage. He then scored when a pop fly by Sam Hilliard was dropped in left field for an error to make it 5-2.
That was all the support Crowder’s pitching would need. Hilliard, who had a somewhat sizeable contingent of scouts on hand to watch his performance, shut down the Cowboys through seven innings in his second dominant performance in as many outings. After striking out 16 in his last appearance, the southpaw allowed two unearned runs on two hits with eight strikeouts and three walks to earn the victory. Robert Smith recorded an out for the Roughriders to start the eighth and bowed out to Richie Peoples after allowing a hit.
Despite walking two batters over the next 1 2/3 innings, Peoples flashed his knockout breaking ball and dominated the Cowboys down the stretch, striking out two in a scoreless bid to earn the save.
The win also served as a bit of a payback from the Roughriders after the Cowboys rallied late to beat them 12-5 in Warner, Okla., back on March 25. Tuesday’s loss was only the fifth of the season for the Cowboys, who fell to 32-5. Crowder, who inched up the polls a spot to No. 13 this week, improved to 30-9.
“Sunday, I was real disappointed in the way we made adjustments,” Roughriders coach Travis Lallemand said. “The guys practiced and worked on it when they came out to the field and made the necessary adjustments. It’s a big win, but it’s a huge step in the right direction, adjustment-wise, for us going into the weekend.”
Those adjustments, coupled with the quality pitching the team has been getting of late, could loom large as the regular season begins to draw to a close.
“Sam Hilliard his last two starts has been dominant in mid-week,” Lallemand said. “Richie Peoples has been dominant, and Bob (Smith) came in and got an out for us. Again, our bullpen comes in and steps up big for us.
“Whatever situation we get ourselves in when we get in the (Region) tournament, we know we’ve got another quality starter in Sam that can come in and give us a quality start. No matter what happens, we’ve got another arm we can go to and feel very confident in.”
Scroggins, Vaughan, Garrett Mays, Blake Wilfong, Jordan Dey and Lazo all had hits for the Roughriders. Jacob Borrego led the Cowboys with two hits.
Garcia, who had been dealing for the Cowboys before hitting a wall in the fifth, took the loss after allowing four earned runs on six hits with seven strikeouts and two walks in 4 2/3 innings.
Early on, it appeared the weather would play its hand in deciding the game, as both teams dropped a routine pop up in the game that allowed a run to score thanks to gusty crosswinds that made every pop up seem like an adventure for defenders. Crowder’s big inning helped take the weather out of the equation.
The Roughriders now begin a long road stretch that will see them playing nine games over six consecutive dates on the road. They won’t return to Roughrider Field until April 22, when they host Eastern Oklahoma State. The Roughriders travel to Park Hills, Mo., to take on Mineral Area CC in a four-game series this weekend. They’ll begin play on Friday with a nine-inning game at 7 p.m. The series continues Saturday with two seven-inning games beginning at 1 p.m., and it concludes on Sunday with a nine-inning game at noon. Crowder then travels to Chanute, Kan., to take on No. 7 Neosho County CC in a nine-inning game at 2 p.m. They conclude the road trip with four games over two days at Three Rivers CC on April 18-19.