5-17-19Dawgs celebrate.jpg

They didn't get back into town until after 3 a.m., and it may take a while for Navarro's Bulldogs to come back to the ground.

That's how good it feels, and how sweet it tastes to be headed to the JUCO World Series.

"We just want to enjoy it, enjoy where we are right now," Navarro coach Matt Podjenski said Thursday morning after his team won the Region XIV Tournament and Southern District title to earn a trip to Grand Junction, Colo., and in the NJCAA (JUCO) World Series. "It's starting to sink in. It's one of the best experiences of their lives."

The Bulldogs didn't just open the door to earn the program's first trip to the World Series since 2013, they kicked it down — beating it to a pulp with a lineup that destroyed the field in the Region XIV Tournament in Beaumont, where the Dawgs swept through the double-elimination field by sweeping four games.

They celebrated on the Vincent-Peck Stadium diamond Wednesday evening after winning the championship game 14-7 over Blinn. The Dawgs scored 43 runs in the four victories, pounding out 49 hits. All nine starters had at least one hit in the win over Blinn that was topped off with a six-run ninth inning to ignite the celebration.

These Dawgs can rake.

They hit .281 as a team in the regular season and averaged almost seven runs a game and then went over the top in Beaumont, hitting .366 (49-for-134) over the four games in the tournament.

Podjenski has brought talented teams to the postseason every year since taking over the program five years ago, but bad luck and bad timing have ended Navarro's hopes of getting to Grand Junction.

"This year it just so happens we played our best baseball at the right time," Podjenski said. "They deserve it. They worked their tails off. They have lived up to the expectations with hard work."

The Bulldogs (38-16) open up at noon on May 25 against Chipola, a powerhouse program from Florida that has won a couple of national titles.

The Bulldogs, who won it all in 2011 and brought a strong team to the World Series in 2013, are making their fourth trip to the party (1958, 2011, 2013).

"This is what you work for," said Podjenski, who was an assistant coach with Whoa Dill's teams that won it in 2011 and came close in 2013. "Every year you have that goal. The foundation has been laid by Skip and Whoa."

Skip Johnson and Dill lifted Navarro into national prominence and Podjenski has kept that tradition alive by winning four consecutive East Zone titles and coming close to a trip to the World Series in the past.

Now he's making reservations in Grand Junction for a lineup loaded with talent. Everyone — 1 through 9 — has hit this year, and has risen to the occasion down the stretch for the Bulldogs, who have won nine in a row, 12 of 13 and 16 of their last 18.

“I don't think you you find a team that's more resilient,” Podjenski said. “We've overcome a lot of injuries this year and everyone has stepped up. It's been a next man up situation for us all year.

“If you look at our games, it's not one or two people getting the hits. It's everyone one through nine coming through.”

That was never more evident than in Navarro's stretch run and in the four-game bash in Beaumont, where it was a tag-team of clutch hitters coming out of the dugout every night from Jose Gonzalez, who has been on fire down the stretch, to Cash Rugely, who hit .409 this season and was named the conference's Player of the Year, to Kerens grad Stacey Bailey, who had an amazing season and drove in his team-high 64th run in the first inning Wednesday to get Navarro on the board.

The Dawgs saw a hit parade throughout the tournament, and in their final game not only did every player in the lineup have at least one hit, but seven different players drove in runs, including Rugely, who went 2-for-2 with a solo homer and drove in three runs, and Kyle Landers, who had three RBIs against Blinn.

Corsicana's Dawson Woods went 2-for-5, scored twice and drove in a run and Bailey went 2-for-5, scored twice and drove in a run as the two local players combined to go 4-for-10 against Blinn.

Wesley Powell scored three runs and drove in two runs, Mason Holt went 2-for-4, scored and drove in a run and Kyle Hawkins had a double, scored twice and drove in two runs.

Woods, Hawkins, Powell and Holt all had RBIs in Navarro's six-run ninth inning that lifted the Dawgs to a 14-4 lead

Corsicana grad Corbin Hall, who has been pitching his best down the stretch, started and got the win, allowing just two hits and one earned run over four innings while striking out three and walking one. Collin Storms, who gave up just three hits over three innings, and Colin Wyman, who gave up three hits over the final two frames, closed out Blinn in relief to complete an impressive four-game run by Navarro pitchers, who combined to allow just eight runs in the first three games.

“We hit and we pitched well,” Podjenski said.

It showed.

The Bulldogs stormed out of the dugout and took over the diamond in celebration after beating Blinn, shouting and hugging and pointing toward the heavens as the team turned its thoughts toward Colorado.

As Podjenski pointed out, it will take a while for it all to sink in.

Meanwhile, this team and Navarro's fans are just soaking it in, enjoying every minute.

“It's a great ride,” Podjenski said of the overall feeling. “It's exciting.”