BRENHAM, TX -- Twenty years later, former Blinn College baseball coach Kyle Van Hook can still remember exactly how the victory played out in the fourth inning of the Buccaneers’ 1992 state tournament victory over McLennan Community College.
His ace right-hander, Travis Driskill, was in a bases-loaded jam against the Highlanders, a squad that had defeated the Bucs all six times they met during the regular season. With one out, the batter worked the count full, and second-year Bucs skipper Van Hook looked to the bullpen where he had a reliever warmed up and ready to go.
He figured he would give Driskill one last shot to get out of the inning before he pulled him. Driskill, his jersey soaked with sweat, responded with a neck-high fastball, forcing a pop up to shallow left field, then retired the next batter to squirm out of the inning.
In their next at-bat, the Buccaneers would rally, run-ruling the Highlanders on their way to the Junior College World Series.
“It was funny because the last time we played them in the regular season, their nine-hole hitter hit a grand slam to beat us, and I just threw up my hands and said, ‘Well, I guess we’re just not supposed to beat these guys this year,’” recalled Van Hook, now a scout for the Cleveland Indians.
Van Hook and the 1992 Buccaneers will gather to tell similar stories Feb. 11 when they hold their 20-year reunion to commemorate the last Blinn baseball team to qualify for the Junior College World Series in Grand Junction, Colo. The team has confirmed that at least 18 players from that squad will attend and be honored in a brief ceremony prior to Blinn’s 3 p.m. double-header against Angelina College at Leroy Dreyer Field in Brenham.
“It was such a fairy-tale season,” Van Hook said. “It was just my second year there and we were trying to build a foundation, and it just turned into this magical year. There were probably three or four teams at the World Series with more talent than us, but we just had such great chemistry.”
The Buccaneers very nearly didn’t qualify for the state tournament, let alone the World Series.
Heading into the final week of the regular season, the Buccaneers were deadlocked with San Jacinto for the conference’s second and final state tournament berth. Laredo, the No. 1-ranked team in the country, had already clinched one spot, and San Jacinto looked primed to claim the other as they entered a series against last-place Brownsville.
Blinn’s coaching staff figured San Jacinto was likely to sweep all three games from Brownsville that weekend, meaning the Buccaneers would have to win all three games against the Alvin Dolphins to qualify for state.
When the Buccaneers showed up in Alvin for the first game of that series, several San Jacinto players were in the stands, rooting on the Dolphins.
“That kind of got under our skin a little bit,” Van Hook said.
But the Buccaneers couldn’t turn that motivation into a victory, falling to Dolphins. They would need to win both games on the final day of the season to keep their state tournament hopes alive, and even then, Van Hook admitted, their chances were slim.
In the first game, the Buccaneers rallied to take a one-run lead in the top of the seventh inning. With sophomore right-hander Kevin Bosse on the mound, Alvin threatened one last time in the bottom half of the frame, loading the bases with one out.
But Bosse induced a ground ball back to the mound, and the righty from Navasota threw the ball home to catcher Craig Bolcerek, who then threw to Matt Bentke at first for the final out of the game.
“We were a base hit away from losing that game,” Van Hook said.
Blinn cruised to the win in its second win that day. When they got back home to Brenham, the Buccaneers received the good news – San Jacinto had lost earlier in the day. The Buccaneers were headed to the state tournament.
But the adversity didn’t end there. The four-day tournament was plagued by rain, forcing the team to travel from Waco, the original site, to Tarleton State University in Stephenville. When the games at Stephenville got rained out, the tournament was moved again, this time to Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene. On the final two days of the tournament, Blinn defeated the heavily-favored Laredo Palominos twice to qualify for the Junior College World Series.
“We honestly didn’t expect to go,” Van Hook said. “That was our goal, but it happened even sooner than we’d thought.”
Because the rain delays had extended the tournament two days, by the time the Buccaneers qualified for the trip to Grand Junction, they had difficulty finding plane tickets to Colorado. Blinn was resigned to taking the bus – a 24-hour undertaking each way – when it learned that Laredo had made flight plans in the expectation of qualifying for the World Series. Since the Bucs had already taken the Palominos’ spot in the tournament, they also took their plane tickets.
Once they got there, the Buccaneers found that Grand Junction was everything they had hoped.
“I remember saying how can Omaha (Nebraska, the site of the NCAA College World Series) be better than this?” Van Hook said. “The town shuts down for a week, the stands are packed and the players feel like kings. It’s just unbelievable.”
On the way to the stadium, Van Hook couldn’t stop laughing.
“It was like riding on air,” he said. “I didn’t even know we were on the road.”
Blinn continued to fly high in the opening game of the tournament. Buoyed by emotion, Driskill reached 94 mph on the radar gun and was so impressive that by the time Van Hook returned to his hotel room he already had a host of excited messages from professional and college scouts asking about Driskill.
But after the 5-0 win over Indian River, Iowa, the Buccaneers would fall to earth as Pima, Ariz. came from behind to beat the Buccaneers 7-5. Blinn would pick up one more victory before being eliminated by the eventual national champion, Essex, Maryland.
“We were playing Pima and they hit a ground ball that bounced clear over our third baseman,” Van Hook said. “He never had a chance, and I just remember saying, ‘Sometimes the baseball gods give and sometimes they take it away.’”
After the season, Driskill would transfer to Texas Tech before going on to pitch for the Baltimore Orioles. Shortstop David Brooks went to Rice, Bosse and catcher Brian Johnson went to Texas A&M, second baseman Zach Randle and pitcher Mark Lummus transferred to Texas, pitcher Kevin McNeill went to McNeese State, pitcher Bryan Kestler went to Northeast Louisiana, first baseman Keith Harrison went on to play at San Jacinto and Houston Baptist, outfielder Shawn Lopez went to Lewis & Clark State and pitcher Oscar Ramon went on to play independent ball. Third baseman Mike Judge and outfielder Scott Perkins each played at Southwestern Louisiana before going on to careers with the Milwaukee Brewers, and Jason Sheppard also went to USL.
Bolcerek turned down a contract from the Texas Rangers organization and retired from the sport, while outfielder Don Denbow would sign a contract with the San Francisco Giants the following year. In all, 13 players on the Buccaneers’ 25-man roster were drafted or played professional baseball.
“I was really a unique bunch of guys,” Van Hook said. “They were kind of an eclectic bunch, but they had great chemistry and that’s why they won.”