Through cold and windy conditions, the third-ranked McLennan baseball team picked up its first two wins of the season, the first pair for first-year skipper Tyler Johnson, with a doubleheader sweep of Navarro College Sunday at Bosque River Ballpark.
The Highlanders (2-1) grabbed a 6-1 win in the 7-inning opener and a 7-1 comeback in the nightcap, bouncing back from a Friday night loss to start the series.
“It was really competitive,” Johnson said of the series. “Navarro’s got a really good team to start the year out and I’m just glad we came out on top today and string some stuff together when it mattered.”
Devin Bennett took the win on the mound in game one, starting the first three innings and giving up just one run. Connor Zaruba earned the win out of the bullpen, taking over in the second to record five strikeouts over 3.1 innings. The bullpen made a significant contribution to both wins for the Highlanders.
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“That was a huge help with (Stefan) Stahl coming out and getting strikes,” Johnson said. “Zaruba coming out in the second game, throwing strikes and getting a bunch of guys out in front, just doing a good job attacking the zone. It definitely extended out the games and helped the bullpen out a lot to where we didn’t have to sit there and kind of flip a coin on some guys.”
The Bulldogs took the small-ball approach in the top of the third as infielder Jack Opoien singled to start the inning. The freshman advanced to second on a sac bunt by shortstop Marco Villanueva and a fly ball to center by catcher Caden Koerbacher. Opoien scored on an MCC error.
But the Highlanders responded in the bottom half of the inning with a two RBI double by outfielder Ty Johnson following back-to-back walks to outfielders Ravaughn Morgan and Elijah Rodriguez.
Stefan Stahl relieved Bennett in the fourth, picking up a pair of strikeouts before Navarro outfielder Braden Gostisha ripped a double down the left field line. A groundout to short erased the threat. Stahl then put up back-to-back 1-2-3 innings in the fifth and sixth.
After two scoreless innings, MCC tacked on four runs in the bottom of the sixth. Catcher Jason Hawkins led off with a double down the right field line prompting a pitching change from the Bulldogs, the second of the day for Navarro. Lefty Drake Dowd replaced righty Anthony Tejado who had taken over for starter Evan Maldonado in the fifth.
Pinch hitter Britton Moore earned a one-out walk and Morgan followed in kind to load the bases. Hawkins scored on a fielder’s choice hit by Rodriguez and Moore snuck on the throw. Moore and Rodriguez advanced on a Bulldog error and Johnson closed out the action with an RBI single.
“We’ve definitely got to do a better job with runs in scoring position overall but definitely came through when we needed to,” Johnson said. “Put them together there at the end of the first game.”
In the nine-inning nightcap, McLennan took advantage of some of Navarro’s mistakes to mount a comeback after falling back early.
The Bulldogs took a one-lead in the first inning thanks to a Opoien home run. The contest went scoreless until the fifth despite the Highlanders managing to get at least a runner on in each of the previous innings, including a triple to right field by first baseman Katcher Halligan.
MCC broke open the scoring with six runs in the fifth as outfielder Richard Brinson led off with a walk and advanced on a stolen base. Johnson got on with a one-out single. Infielder Chase Brown was right behind him with a line drive that looped over the pitcher’s head and bounced into center, scoring Brinson.
Then Johnson and Brown executed a double steal to get into scoring position. Infielder Cole Dillon walked to load the bases and another walk to Moore brought Johnson in for run number two, prompting a pitching change. But a third-consecutive walk to Halligan scored Brown and Dillon scored on the fourth walk to infielder Karson Krowka. Moore and Halligan came home as infielder Jake D’Altrui hit into a double play.
MCC added a final run in the bottom of the eighth as D’Altrui reached base and blasted off all the way to third on an error, the ball bouncing out of the fight fielder’s glove.
“We stuck to our approach pretty good in game two,” Johnson said of his offense. “Did a really good job attacking strikes and not swinging at balls outside the zone, something we’ve worked on a lot since guys came from Christmas break. Definitely see it paying off and the guys see it paying off so they keep buying into it.”
McLennan will hit the road for somewhat warmer weather, competing in the Panama City Gulf Coast Classic from Friday to Sunday in Panama City, Florida.