ALLEMAN – Juan Gonzalez dropped his chin to his chest, took a few slow strides along the first-base side of the pitching mound and then made his way back up to the rubber. Colfax-Mingo’s starting pitcher had just issued his first walk in the top of the seventh inning of a tied playoff game.
It was the beginning of the end for Gonzalez and his teammates.
Plays had to be made in the waning moments of the Tigerhawks’ season. Each time, they came up empty.
A seventh inning that featured some of the same frustration and disappointment Colfax-Mingo experienced throughout its four-win regular season culminated in a sequence of miscues that eliminated the Tigerhawks from Class 2A District 14 play Saturday night.
Interstate 35 scored five runs in the top of the seventh before Roadrunner starting pitcher Levi Sanquist struck out the side in the bottom half to end Colfax-Mingo’s season with a 6-1 defeat.
“That happened to us how many times this year,” Colfax-Mingo head coach Seth Milledge said, “where we have that one inning. It just seems to be where we’re at, what we are currently.”
In 11 of Colfax-Mingo’s 23 losses this season, opponents beat the Tigerhawks with at least one five-run inning.
Saturday’s occurrence resulted as much from self-inflicted mishaps as it did from Interstate 35’s bats.
After Gonzalez gave up the lead-off walk and Roadrunner Zach Stewart singled, Colfax-Mingo had a chance to record the first out of the seventh at third base. Sanquist produced an infield blooper on a check swing that landed between third baseman Jarod Nichols and Gonzalez. Nichols, who fielded the ball, and Gonzalez then both took to the bag on a bang-bang play that resulted in the ball ending up in the grass in foul territory following an errant exchange.
Gonzalez struck out the following batter with the bases loaded and then induced a ground ball in the next at-bat to shortstop Colton Harmison. Harmison fielded the grounder and made an off-target but catchable throw to catcher Jacob Buehrer for the force out at home, but the ball popped out of Buehrer’s glove, giving Interstate 35 its first lead of the game.
The inning unraveled for Colfax-Mingo in the ensuing at-bat when center fielder Tim Blood missed a fly ball, allowing Interstate 35 another out to work with. The Roadrunners went on to add three more runs on two hits off Gonzalez, who said after the game he was growing tired in his final inning on the mound.
“A lot of emotion in this game,” Gonzalez said. “Sort of running out there towards the end.”
“Very frustrating,” Harmison said, fighting back his emotions after the game. “Considering it’s my senior year and it’s my last time on a baseball field, it’s pretty frustrating.”
Harmison gave his team a 1-0 lead in the third when he stole second and then scored thanks to a throwing error.
Momentum shifted in the sixth. The Roadrunners tied the game at 1-all in the top half and then prevented Colfax-Mingo from regaining the lead in the bottom half.
With Nate Smith on second base, Blood hit a grounder to Interstate 35 third baseman Elijah Smith that yielded a high throw of first base. Upon seeing the error, Milledge waved home Smith, who was eventually caught in between home and third and tagged for the second out of the inning.
“That’s on me,” Milledge said. “I sent him thinking we make it there and we didn’t.”
The first-year head coach further explained his reasoning for sending Smith home by speaking about his team’s offensive struggles earlier in the game. The Tigerhawks stranded runners on second and third in the first and second innings without scoring.
Colfax-Mingo, which hit .199 as a team and averaged less than two runs per game during the regular season, left a total of six runners in scoring position against Interstate 35.
“That’s why I’m trying to be aggressive in the sixth and get us scoring there because we always have to tack on extra runs. We can’t rely on one run,” Milledge said. “Being aggressive there, in the end it hurt us, and again, that’s my bad. I take full responsibility of that. I’ve got to judge where that throw was and try to get Nate there. With one out, I’m thinking, why not? Why not go score? It is what it is and it’s just unfortunate it didn’t go our way.
“But that [play] can’t shift momentum so much that they then go and score [five] runs on us. That can’t happen … That can’t be the time when our heads go down and we lose our composure and ultimately lose a ball game that we should’ve won.”
The seventh inning spoiled a solid showing by Gonzalez, who retired the first seven batters he faced. The senior kept his team in the game by stranding Roadrunners on second and third to end the third and getting an inning-ending double play in the fourth.
“I thought we had it, I really did,” Milledge said, “and then we have the inning we had.”