What a day.
A sun-drenched field, pinstripes, pickoffs and power pitching, back-handed plays at short and safety squeeze bunts that work, a coach named Whoa and the Catcher in the Rye on the mound.
Welcome to Navarro baseball.
Or better yet, welcome back.
The Bulldogs, those nationally-ranked, let’s win-it-all-this-year Bulldogs, opened the baseball season Friday afternoon at home under the bluest of Texas skies with enough hope and promise to fill them.
Like fast starts? How about this? The first four Bulldogs who came to the plate all scored. That’s all Navarro needed (and all the Bulldogs got) in their season opening 4-2 win over North Central Texas.
Holden Grounds, the pitcher whose name rings of the Catcher in the Rye, started and got his first JUCO win. He gave up a run in the first, settled in and left with a 4-1 lead after three inning to earn the victory in the seven-inning game and opener of a doubleheader.
“I thought he threw well,’’ said Navarro Coach Whoa Dill. “He was a little up (with his pitches). He was fired up. He’s going to be fine. He’s going to be a great pitcher for us.’’
Grounds has been a great pitcher since he was a kid, tossing off the sandlots and Little League mounds in Corsicana. He left Corsicana High as one of the top pitchers in the state, earning All-State honors as well as being named the All-Golden Circle Player of the Year.
But this was his first college game and the wind was blowing in and swirling at 25 mph with gusts in the 30s. Like any good pitcher, Grounds adjusted to the new college game, the wind and being at Navarro. He gave up a run in the first and then retired eight of the next 10 he faced.
Not bad for the first time out facing batters, expectations and some opening day excitement.
“My (adrenaline) was going pretty good. I knew it was a big game because it’s the first game and you want to start the season 1-0. You always want to win the first one,” said Grounds, who gave up two hits and struck out three, including two of the last three batters he faced. He got the last one looking at a curve that bent just right.
That’s the way that first game felt to the Bulldogs — just right.
The first four batters not only reached base, but they all scored .
With the wind blowing in, Dill went to small ball. Well, it was more like small, smaller and smallest as Navarro put down three bunts in the first inning. They were all pretty, and they all did the job — and two of them brought home runs. That’s bigtime small ball.
Daniel Costello and Grayson Lewis led off with back-to-back walks and Costello stole second. Kyle Kirk opened the bunt-a-thon and not only beat the throw for a hit but brought in Costello. Luke Hoyle followed with an RBI single to center, and then Dill went back to the bunt, and Ryan Thomas delivered with a sacrifice to move the runners up. J.P. Phillips then had a sacrifice bunt that brought in a 3-0 lead, and Jovan Hernandez ripped a two-out single to right, and suddenly Grounds and the Bulldogs had a 4-1 lead.
That held up, thanks to some tough pitching that included two pickoffs and a few plays worth a highlight tape. There was shortstop Mason Hesse’s strong backhand play in the fourth inning, second baseman Kirk’s show-stopping play on a hard grounder in the third and right fielder Sam McDonnell’s run-a-mile catch in the fifth.
Dill wants pitching and defense and that’s who showed up in the opener. He just needed to get a few runs.
“It’s one of those deals where the wind is blowing in and you want to get that first guy on and manufacture a run,’’ Dill said. “You really want to get a lead in a game like this.’’
He smiled when he was reminded all four scored.
“That was a great start,’’ he said. “We had some bunts and we had a safety squeeze that got a run, and the Jovan got the big two-out hit to bring in a run. That was big. The big thing is we used all freshman pitchers except for my closer Jack Moffitt. It was their first game and we got that first win.’’
Freshman Keenan Wingfield followed Grounds and gave up a run on two hits over two innings. Freshman Jorge Flores was impressive in one inning of work. He opened with a strikeout, walked a guy and then picked him off and got a lazy fly to center to have a 1-2-3 inning. Moffitt, the only sophomore to pitch in the opener, looked and threw like one. He wrapped it up with a hitless seventh that included two strikeouts.
Navarro completed the perfect day with another 4-2 win in the second game to start the season at 2-0.
It left Dill and his players smiling. They all wanted a fast start and got one. They’re ranked No. 5 in the nation in the NJCAA national poll, and the goal is to get back to the nationals and win it all again like in 2011.
They fell a little short a year ago, but form the first pitch in practice this group believes they can win it all. They wanted a to start the season right, and boy, did they.
They walked off with two wins on a gorgeous opening day full of wind and youngests and the promise of a big season.
And when they walked off the diamond after that second win of the day, well, that big blue Texas sky looked a little bluer.
What a day.
CG Baseball/Softball: Roundup
Mildred's softball team and Wortham's baseball teams both win.
CHS Basketball: Two Tigers make All-District first team
Corsicana’s Tigers capped off an emotion season in which they finished in a tie for third and then battled for a playoff spot by placing two players on the District 16-4A All-District first team and three more on the second team as postseason honors were announced.
CHS tennis: Tigers playing well as they host tournament
Corsicana High’s rich and storied tradition in tennis is in good shape as the Tigers have made strides during the spring tennis season.
The Tigers, who have played well this spring, will be the hosts to one of the top tournaments of the spring on Friday when 16 schools and 256 players will compete in the Corsicana Spring Break Slam.
Frost's Blenden leaves for AD job in Valley Mills
Frost football and basketball coach Eric Blenden is leaving school for job at Valley Mills High School.
Region XIV Tournament: Navarro's season ends with first-round loss to Angelina
The Bulldogs were stunned by Angelina in the opening round of the Region XIV Men’s Basketball Tournament at Tyler Junior College’s Wagstaff Gym, where Navarro’s season ended in a 82-76 loss to the Roadrunners, who are the No. 12 seed in the tournament.
GC Boys Basketball: District 18-1A DI: All-District team
Wortham's Brian Coffman is named Coach of the Year, Kerens' Nate Betts is MVP of 18-1A DI.
GC Basketball: Kerens dominates 18-1A DI girls All-District team
The Kerens LadyCats, who went undefeated in district, dominated the District 18-1A DI All-District girls basketball team that was announced Tuesday.
Not only did Denise Lincoln win the Coach of the Year but Breanna Baxter was named the district MVP and Marqueshia Kelly was the district’s Defensive MVP.
Youth Sports: Mildred Baseball/Softball registration is this weekend
The Mildred Youth Baseball/Softball Association will be signing up players for the upcoming season from 10:00 a.m. through noon on Saturday and from 3:00 p.m. until 5:30 p.m. on Sunday in the Lane Gym foyer at Mildred High School.
GC Basketball: Frost earns postseason honors on boys 19-1A All-District team
The Frost Polar Bears, who made a deep run in the Class 1A DII playoffs before losing in the regional quarterfinals, were well represented on the District 19-1A boys All-District basketball team that was announced this week.
Not only did three of Frost’s five starters make the first team, but freshman Kobe Hailey was named the Newcomer of the Year.
GC Baseball/Softball: Weekend Roundup -- Dawson wins Frankston Tournament
Dawson’s softball team won the Frankston Maiden Softball Tournament over the weekend with a 5-1 tournament record. The Lady Bulldogs opened on Thursday by beating Martin’s Mill 11-0 and Overton, 9-1, before losing to Neches 7-0.
But Dawson bounced back and beat Frankston 3-0 on Thursday and came back on Saturday for the final two games. Dawson defeated Overton 11-1 in the semifinals before meeting Neches in the final. Dawson won the title game, 9-0.
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- CG Baseball/Softball: Roundup