LUFKIN, Texas – For the first time since 1992—and the first time under coach Harvey McIntyre—the Blinn baseball team is headed the NJCAA World Series.
The Buccaneers won the Region XIV Conference championship over the Alvin Dolphins here Saturday with a 12-4 victory that clinched their berth to Grand Junction, Colo.
“I’m so proud of these guys. It wasn’t an easy road,” McIntyre said, who’s in his seventh season as head coach of the Bucs. “You’ve got to go through Navarro, Alvin, San Jacinto and then Alvin two times at the conference tournament. It was tough and we were tested, but these guys came through when it mattered most. I can’t say enough about this group.”
The Bucs did so in explosive fashion.
After Alvin handed Blinn its first loss of the tournament Friday, 12-4, the Bucs were the ones pouring on the runs Saturday.
The Bucs had 17 hits, and none was more important than Jager Toffan’s triple in the bottom of the fourth that tied the game 3-3. In the next at-bat, Reed Robinson hit an RBI single to left field that scored Toffan to give the Bucs a 4-3 lead.
It was one they wouldn’t relinquish.
And the Bucs kept pouring the runs on.
Holding a slim one-run lead in the bottom of the fifth, the Bucs exploded for four runs on RBI hits from freshmen Jose Reyes and Caden Williams and sophomore Cullen Gassaway.
After struggling at the plate the entire tournament, Gassaway lit up the Alvin pitching on a 3-for-4 day with two runs scored and three RBI.
Nolan Brown, the only other sophomore in the lineup, went 3-for-5 with three runs scored and two RBI, including a two-run triple in the bottom of the eighth that gave the Bucs an 11-4 lead.
Gassaway followed with an RBI single that made it 12-4.
“Our 3-4-5 guys, we’ve been waiting for them to get going and today they did,” McIntyre said. “When you’ve got Gassaway and Brown hot at the plate, they’re tough outs.”
Freshman pitcher Christian Thames had it under control from there.
Thames tossed six innings of relief, allowing one run on five hits while striking out five and walking two.
“He’s been a rock out of the bullpen all year,” McIntyre said. “He takes pride in coming in and shutting teams down.”
Following the game, McIntyre was named the Region XIV Coach of the Year.
“I’m honored, but it’s these guys who do all the work,” McIntyre said.
In their last World Series appearance in ’92, the Bucs finished third overall under then-coach Kyle Van Hook.
Blinn shut out Indian Hills (Ia.) 7-0 in the tournament opener, then lost to Pima (Ariz.) 7-5 in the second round before responding with another 7-0 win over Indian Hills. Essex (Md.) defeated Blinn 13-9 to advance to the finals.
Prior to its ’92 World Series appearance, the Bucs last made it to Grand Junction in 1968.
“This is great for coach McIntyre and means this group of sophomores gets to go out with a bang,” Brown said. “It’s an amazing feeling to be the first group in all of coach McIntyre’s years of coaching to lead him to the World Series.”
All year McIntyre has preached how special of a group this year’s crop of Buccaneers is. And with Saturday’s win over the top seed in the conference, they proved just how good they are.
“I couldn’t be happier for them,” McIntyre said. “All year they’ve showed up to practice and to games and done what we’ve asked them to. I couldn’t ask for a better group.”
For more information on Blinn baseball, visit www.buccaneersports.com.