JOPLIN — On the centerfield wall at Roughrider Field hangs a sign that serves as a constant reminder to those who grace its confines. It reads: “Those who work the hardest are the last to surrender.” It’s a message that they’re often reminded of during grueling workouts in the fall, and refuse to forget when they’re in the heat of battle in the spring.

JOPLIN — On the centerfield wall at Roughrider Field hangs a sign that serves as a constant reminder to those who grace its confines. It reads: “Those who work the hardest are the last to surrender.” It’s a message that they’re often reminded of during grueling workouts in the fall, and refuse to forget when they’re in the heat of battle in the spring.

The truth in that message came to light last week.

On Sunday, the Crowder baseball team gave their moms something to be proud of on Mother’s Day and themselves a gift they’ll never outgrow — a Region 16 Championship.

After finishing as the Region 16 runner-up the past two seasons, the Roughriders claimed their first region title since 2010 — the same year they went on to finish fifth in the JUCO World Series — with a 9-2 victory over Mineral Area Community College in the title game at Wendell Redden Stadium in Joplin.

Their performance in the tournament served as the very definition of a team refusing to surrender. They lost their first game in the tournament in the second round to the same Mineral Area team they’d go on to beat twice for the crown. With their backs against the wall following that 5-4 loss on Thursday, the Roughriders rallied to beat Three Rivers 5-2 and battled from a 4-1 deficit to beat top-seeded Jefferson College 14-6 on Friday. They fought back from a 4-0 deficit on Saturday to beat second-seeded Maple Woods, 6-4, and then fought back to force a final game with a 9-4 victory over Mineral Area later in the day.

On Sunday, they’d scraped together only one hit — a leadoff single by Ty White in the bottom of the first — through four innings and trailed 2-0. After putting runners on the corners with one out in the fifth, they collected three hits and pushed across their first run on a sac fly by Jordan Dey to make it 2-1. They continued plugging away in the sixth and tied it, 2-2, when Garrett Mays doubled to left to put runners at second and third before Tyler McKinzie lined a single to right to score Casey Vaughan.

With three more hits in the sixth, you could sense a major momentum shift. They punched three more hits in the seventh, only this time they also scored three times to bust the game open, 5-2. They would pick up an additional four hits and four more runs in the eighth — the knockout blow coming on a bases-clearing double to left by Vaughan to make it 9-2.

That was more support than Crowder ace Mark Reyes would need. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound left-hander from Jessieville, Ark., was dominant again for the second time in the tournament. After shutting out North Central on Wednesday on 100 pitches while striking out 10 batters in seven innings, Reyes went all nine on Sunday, carving up the Cardinals with 11 strikeouts and one walk while allowing two runs on five hits in 130 pitches. His only blemish came in the second, when Mineral Area scored twice on three consecutive hits.

Reyes would quickly get things under control, however, and went on to retire the final 20 batters in order. He didn’t allow a hit after the third inning. Faced with a decision whether or not to send Reyes out for the ninth inning, Crowder coach Travis Lallemand said it didn’t take long for him to make up his mind — Reyes wasn’t coming out.

“I was going to fight them if I had to come out of this game,” Reyes said with a smile. “I wanted to finish this, but I didn’t just finish this — we all finished this. Any bounce back from a three or four day rest is going to be hard, but when you’ve got a team like this that’s going to have your back, there’s nothing like it. You’ve got adrenaline going and it’s easy to bounce back with this team.”

When Reyes got Cody Heisserer to ground out softly to McKinzie at shortstop to end the game, the Roughriders poured out of the dugout in jubilation.

“We worked really hard all year for this,” sophomore second baseman Ryan Lazo said. “Flying through the losers’ bracket just shows what we’re made out of. Our bond is just unreal. We were down and everybody knew we were going to come back, because everybody trusted in each other. That’s the bond we have.

“Our motto is, ‘If you have an out, you have a chance.’ It speaks for itself.”

Making it back to district play for the first time in four years, Roughriders coach Travis Lallemand said he couldn’t be happier for not only the players, but the coaches as well.

“I can’t even fit into words the toughness of these guys,” Lallemand said of his team. “They just played seven games in the region tournament and won it, and several different guys stepped up on the mound and at the plate. It just speaks volumes of their character. It’s just an unbelievable group effort.

“I’ve never been as proud of a group of guys as I am right here,” he continued. “That’s nothing against our guys that played in the past. (This team) played five one-game seasons to finish the region tournament and they get to be called champions now. That speaks a lot about these coaches, too. They came in and set up goals just like every year, and we worked our tails off. Lose in round two and you’ve got to keep these kids motivated. The coaches did that. The kids followed their lead.”

It was an especially big moment for the six third-year guys on the team. Those six have sat through two heartbreaking losses in region championships prior to this season.

“This is incredible,” sophomore Ty White said. “There’s been times where we’ve had our droughts on the field, but it was time to get it done and we stepped up and we’re champions. We worked hard and were the last to surrender. That’s why we’re champions.”

For freshman first baseman/pitcher Sam Hilliard, who is headed to Wichita State next season, it was a moment he’ll never forget.

“It’s pretty awesome,” Hilliard said. “This is the best team I’ve ever been on, without a doubt. Knowing Lalle (Lallemand) hasn’t done it in four years, to finally pull it out for him is awesome. Seeing Lalle get excited — you don’t see him show his emotions that much — so to see him really excited makes me happy.

“Lalle was telling us, ‘We’ve won our first two (region tournament games) the past couple of years (and lost), so why not take a different route?’ That’s what we did. We went out there and decided that we weren’t going to lose again. Hopefully it carries on to (this) week.”

Reyes credited the hard work put in during the fall for their unwillingness to give up when it counts.

“From the beginning of fall, you would have never thought we would be here,” Reyes said. “The stuff we do in the fall is unreal. No one else does it. We become a family. Everybody would be willing to die for someone on this team now. It’s like you were born and raised in this family. There’s nothing better than this right here.”

Lallemand said he was going to take a moment to let it all soak in before shifting focus to districts this weekend.

“Now we get to go compete for a chance to go back to Grand Junction at our home field on Friday,” he said. “I can’t think of a better way for this group to have an opportunity to play on our field. It’s just an unbelievable group effort. Unbelievable resiliency.”

The No. 17 Roughriders (45-14) will open play in the South Central District Championship at 4 p.m. Friday against the winner of Region 2 between Northeastern Oklahoma A&M and Seminole State CC. They’ll play again at 7 p.m. Friday against Delgado (La.) CC, who is currently ranked No. 3 in the nation with a record of 37-10.

NOTES: White, who didn’t earn a spot on the all-region team despite batting .342 with a .397 on base percentage and .596 slugging percentage with 16 doubles, 15 triples, five home runs and 56 RBIs while batting leadoff all season, raked in the leadoff spot during he tournament, finishing with a .556 batting average. Hilliard hit .424 in the tournament, while regulars Chris Scroggins (.316), Vaughan (.342), Blake Wilfong (.323) and Lazo (.310) also had superb tournaments with the bat … Lazo, Reyes and Wilfong were all named to the All-Region team … Wilfong, a freshman from Jerseyville, Ill., was named Defensive Player of the Year.