By Wayne Bunch
WARNER – Connors State is just one victory away from advancing to the NJCAA College World Series in Grand Junction, Colo., next week.
The Cowboys overpowered Maple Woods 9-5 in their opening game of the NJCAA South Central District and followed with a stunning 11-10 victory in 10 innings over No. 1-ranked Delgado Community College Friday night at Biff Thompson Field.
The fifth-ranked Cowboys (51-9) will meet Delgado at 1 p.m. today in the championship game. A Delgado win would force a third game at 1 p.m. Sunday.
Deadlocked at 10-10, Cowboys’ Tyler Fourkiller, the second Cowboy to be hit by a pitch in the inning, forced home Tyson Tackett, who was running for Phil Diedrick with the winning run.
Diedrick, who singled to right field to open the 10th, moved to second base on Victor Claudio’s sacrifice bunt. Eli Roundtree then walked, and Jiro Morales was hit by a pitch to load the bases. That set the stage for the winning run.
Once again the “cardiac kids” find ways to win as they set their sights on a South Central District Title and a return trip to the CWS, their first since 2008.
Justin Ferrell (4-1), who took over for Andrew Simonetti in the seventh was the winning pitcher. Simonetti relieved starter Kelvin Rivas in the sixth.
“Man, this was ugly,” said Connors coach Perry Keith. “But I’ll take it. This has been the way we’ve played all year.”
Connors took advantage of two Delgado errors and a pair of base hits to grab 3-0 lead after two innings. Roundtree’s base hit plated a run and Daniels was hit by a pitch to force in another run with the bases loaded. The third run came by way of a Dolphins’ error.
Yariel Gonzalez blasted his 11th home run of the year over the left field wall to open the third frame and five Connors a 3-2 lead. Cowboys then added two more runs for a 5-2 lead on an RBI single by Erik Kirkpatrick and another Delgado throwing error.
Phil Diedrick, who was hit by a pitch for the second time in the game, scored on a single by Eli Roundtree that bounced over the second baseman’s head, giving Connors a 6-2 lead.
Delgado came back with three runs in the fifth, but the Cowboys answered with three of their own, taking advantage of two Dolphins’ errors and two base hits. Korey Keith connected on an RBI base hit and Diedrick sent two more across the plate with a single to right center field, giving Connors a 9-5 lead.
Connors continued to add to its total with a run in the sixth for a 10-5 advantage. A sacrifice fly by Perez scored Chance Sugg, who was running for Kirkpatrick, who had doubled to open the inning.
Delgado added a run in the sixth and then scored four more in the seventh to tie the game at 10-10.
Cowboys jumped on Maple Woods’ starter Grant Woods for five runs in the second inning of their first game, sending nine batters to the plate en route to the 9-5 victory.
The Connors’ win eliminated Maple Woods for the South Central District as the Monarchs completed the season 25-27.
Josh Hammill (7-0) went eight innings for the Cowboys before being lifted after two back-to-back walks. He was relieved by Simmonetti. Hammill scattered eight hits and walked eight in posting the win.
“I really wanted to go the distance, but I started feel it (tired) in the seventh when I sat down,” said Hammill. “I lost a little off my fast ball, got behind on the hitters and just couldn’t throw strikes. I just got tired and told coach (Keith) to take me out.”
Hammill credited his teammates for giving him an early lead.
“They really hit the ball and gave me a lot of support. It’s a great feeling to get this win.”
Connors collected 11 base hits in the game with Claudio leading the hitting assault with three base hits in five trips. Morales had two base hits.
The Monarchs scored two runs in the third, connecting on two hits against Hammill. The big blow was a 2-run RBI double by Nick Elmore to make it a 5-2 game.
The Cowboys upped their lead to 7-2 in the fourth on RBI single by Claudio and sacrifice fly by Gonzalez that scored Daniels, who walked to begin the inning.
Connors’ hitting assault continued in the fifth with two more runs on an RBI single by Daniels and a sacrifice fly to center field by Christian Perez that plated Morales for a 9-2 Cowboys lead.
Monarchs’ Will Carter made it a 9-4 game with a 2-run blast over the right field wall in the seventh inning.