Updated: Nov 14, 2020
Editor's note: College Baseball Nation is joined by guest writer, Riley Zayas, for coverage of the Texas Collegiate League. Riley Zayas is a high school freshman and freelance journalist from Round Rock, Texas. He began his journalism career as a Sports Illustrated Kid reporter and has since become a regular contributor to Horns Illustrated, covering Texas Longhorn sports. His work also includes Fellowship of Christian Athletes publications, his personal blog 360 Sports, and Sports Spectrum, a national christian sports magazine and website. He is passionate about all things sports and can be followed on Twitter at @ZayasRiley.
“In a wild and unpredictable year, one constant has remained-the Bombers are champions!”
Will Scott’s call on the TCL-TV broadcast Saturday night said it all. Even in a season with more competition and a sense of uncertainty surrounding Covid-19, nothing stood in the way of the Brazos Valley Bombers capturing the franchise’s seventh Texas Collegiate League Title with a stunning 13-2 victory over the Tulsa Drillers Saturday evening in Bryan, Texas.
From the beginning, the Bombers dominated the game, despite the fact that the team managed just two hits over the first three innings. 10 runs of domination to be exact.
Nicknamed “Olsen North” for its close proximity to the home of Texas A&M Baseball, Travis Field drew a large number of home fans for this final contest of the season. Donning maroon, a large group of fans from the famous “Section 203” at Olsen Field, a group of rowdy Aggie fans who provide much of the home field advantage for Texas A&M, showed up and showed out.
The second inning appeared to be an easy three up, three down frame, with Tulsa’s starter Matt Merrill earning two quick outs. That was, until the University of Science and Arts Oklahoma righty then walked four straight and hit a batter, before he was sent to the dugout. By that point, the game had already begun to unravel for the Drillers, trailing 2-0.
One of those walks was to Texas A&M shortstop Logan Sartori, a speedy base stealer who flashed his baserunning ability early on in the second. In the same at-bat, he stole second, then third. With runners on the corners, Sartori raced home on a wild pitch, scoring Brazos Valley’s first run of the game.
Reliever Riley Boyd didn’t fare much better, pitching to three batters, walking two. Facing Tatrow,his first batter of the game, Boyd fired a pitch into the dirt. Tulsa catcher Max Hewitt lost the ball, which careened high before falling behind him, allowing not one but two runs to score. As Austin Bost raced across the plate from third, Lamar’s Kelby Weyler, with heads-up running, sprinted from second, diving across the plate for the run.
That rough performance was followed by Garrett Crowley allowing four more runs, finally getting out of a six-run second.
By then the damage was done, with Brazos Valley well on its way to another championship victory. Travis Sundgren, from Texas State, was the Bombers’ starter, experiencing little trouble with the normally strong Drillers offense. Through four frames, he gave up just a single run, fanning six batters.
“In a wild and unpredictable year, one constant has remained-the Bombers are champions!” -Will Scott
Similar to the style of play in the south division championship, Brazos Valley used a keen eye at the plate, and never took the foot off the pedal. Over the course of the contest, the Bombers drew a total of 12 walks, using that as the primary offensive weapon, considering the squad mustered just six hits.
“A wise word from coach Childress, we’re going to lead the league in hit by pitches next year,” Texas A&M’s Bruce Blaum told TexasAgs.com. “Just find a way to get on base to give the next man up an opportunity to bring you home.”
Sartori was responsible for the Bombers’ first run of the day, and came up big once again with the squad’s final runs of the game, knocking a huge two-run homer over the left field wall to extend the lead to 13-2.
Pitching was also key to the success, as it has been throughout the season. Credit has to be given to all five Bombers’ pitchers on the night, as they combined for 10 strikeouts, and allowed just two Tulsa runs.Marshall’s John Cheatwood, the go-to closer, entered the game in the ninth, and struck out Tulsa’s Jaden Brown and Humberto Torres back-to-back, finishing off the game with the same competitive edge that the Bombers began it with.
We did it,” said pitching coach Dan Drullinger. “So proud of these guys and thankful for the opportunity to be a part of it.”
While some may look to attribute this huge victory to one or two specific players, there is not one that stands apart from the rest. Brazos Valley is not that kind of squad. Instead, it received contributions from every single player in the lineup, both in the field or on the mound, that allowed this seventh championship to be captured. The resilience of this squad goes a long way, and this summer is sure to be one to remember for each member of this Bombers squad. For each player in the TCL, really. It has been a summer to remember here in the southwest.
“So thankful to have been able to coach a great set of young men,” said head coach James Dilliard. “Each guy brought something unique & special to the team. Very blessed to have been able to watch them grow as players & young men over the last month and a half. This team will always be a special group.”
Road to the Championship Game
Brazos Valley overpowers San Antonio for South Division Title
In nearly every facet of the series, Brazos Valley found a way to slightly overpower San Antonio, earning two quick victories to punch their ticket to the TCL Championship game.
Offensively is where the Bombers flexed their muscles the most, outscoring the Flying Chanclas 13-6. However, the real key to Brazos Valley’s high run totals was simply getting runners on base, more often by walks than hits.
In game one, San Antonio, hosting the game at Wolff Stadium, had a rough go of it on the mound. Starter Austin Krob out of TCU, held firm, but allowed two earned runs over the first six innings. Johnny Panatex, who ended up with the loss, allowed two more runs, over just one inning of work. At the end of the day, San Antonio’s pitchers allowed six runs, and walked eight. The 6-3 final, was the first example of how offense can be generated by simply getting on base. It helped that the Bombers managed to swipe three bases as well.
Game two followed a much similar path, with the main difference being that the Bombers had their home crowd behind them. The pitching staff was dominant, giving up just four hits, and five walks, while striking out 13. While San Antonio pushed three across the plate, the Bombers offense never took the foot off the pedal, putting together two-run innings in both the first and third inning.
Demonstrating his excellent eye at the plate, future Abilene Christian Wildcat Grayson Tatrow, drew three walks, scoring two runs while going 1-for-2 at the plate.
Tulsa rises from an early defeat to claim North Division Title
Up north, it was a completely different story. The Tulsa Drillers, having gotten into the series because Frisco had been deemed ineligible, made the most of the unique opportunity, despite entering the best-of-three series as underdogs. The Amarillo Sod Squad were very much the favorite, posting the best record in the league, 21-9, and winning the north division regular season title handily.
But as they say, that’s why the games are played on the field, and not on paper. After the Sod Squad grinded out a 4-3 victory in the first showdown at Tulsa, the series moved 365 miles south to Amarillo. All season, Amarillo had attracted the largest crowds in the TCL, so it was expected that the home field advantage could propel the Sod Squad to a game two, series-clinching victory. However, Tulsa pulled a rabbit out of a hat, finding a way to come up victorious by a score of 14-2. The Drillers were relentless at the plate, putting together four multi-run innings, including a six-run seventh in which Tulsa batted around. FIU center fielder Alec Sanchez had one of his best performances of the season, going 3-for-5 at the plate.
With the nature of the first two games being the difference of night and day, it should have been expected that a decisive game three would be in the cards. Amarillo struck first, putting up one in the bottom of the first as Tommy Williams scored from third. While Tulsa put up five in the first four innings, the turning point was something that happened out of the control of either squad. This time, it was mother nature delivering a strike, as a storm rolled through the Texas panhandle. With over an hour of rain delay, the Sod Squad had time to draft up a game plan, down two, with four innings to go. Tulsa only added to the lead, though, stunning the Amarillo faithful, as the Drillers’ Jamail O’ Guinn crossed the plate in the sixth on a double by his USC teammate Clay Owens. The game was blown wide open in the seventh, with Tulsa taking a 9-4 lead, on a three run homer by Sanchez. It proved to be the nail in the coffin for Amarillo.