The Angelina College Roadrunners' players, coaches and fans were going to celebrate Sophomore Day on Wednesday regardless of the outcomes of the doubleheader with Texarkana.
Chase Greening, Todd Wallace and Kyler Crenshaw made sure there'd be an even bigger reason to party.
Greening shut down the first-place Bulldogs in the opener, tossing a beauty of a complete-game gem in AC's 3-1 win in the opener. In the nightcap, Wallace hit a three-run homer in the seventh to cut a Texarkana lead to 6-5, and Crenshaw sent Roadrunner fans into a frenzy with a pinch-hit, three-run walk-off homer in AC's 8-7 win in the nightcap.
"We needed some guys to come through for us today, and man, did those three ever come through," AC head coach Jeff Livin said afterward. "Chase pitched his guts out, and Todd and Kyler couldn't have come up any bigger. I thought the entire team put together a clutch performance at a time we needed it the most."
The Roadrunners entered the day knowing they'd need at least three wins in their final four games to have a shot at making the conference tournament next month. While no one would say it out loud, a sweep of the best team in the Region XIV East Zone seemed a long shot, at best.
"That's a very good ball club over there, and we knew it would take our best to beat them," Livin said. "But everyone knew what was at stake, and they showed the type of team we can be at any time."
Greening is no stranger to pressure games after helping send his Lufkin Panther team to the state finals in 2009. The freshman went the full seven innings, allowing just three hits and striking out seven. The lone Texarkana run was unearned, scored on a first-inning AC error. For the next six frames, not a single Bulldog made it past second base.
To ensure Greening's outing wouldn't go unrewarded, Grant Clyde launched a solo homer – his third big bop in three games – and Tommy Henk and Greg Garcia each drove in fourth-inning runs to break a 1-1 tie. Jordan Fuller's double in the inning moved the go-ahead runs into scoring position, where Henk picked up an RBI on a sacrifice fly and Garcia drove in Fuller with a double.
The 'Runners jumped out a to a quick 2-0 lead in the nightcap's first inning, with Garcia leading off with a triple and Clyde driving him home with a double. After a groundout moved Clyde to third, the freshman from Atascocita pulled off a daring straight steal of home.
Texarkana's Tin Enriquez, a teammate of Greening's at Lufkin High School – the two were co-MVPs in 2009 – drove in a run with a double and scored another, to keep the Bulldogs within a run at 2-1.
In the fifth, Texarkana exploded for five runs, getting RBI doubles from Austin Atwell and Enriquez and a solo homer from Austin Coble. With the Roadrunners stranding 10 runners in five innings – including seven in scoring position – it appeared as if the one big Bulldog inning would be enough.
Then Wallace blasted a three-run shot over the left-field wall to cut the Texarkana lead to 6-5; the Bulldogs added an unearned insurance run in the eighth and brought in closer Colton Reavis to finish off the 'Runners in the ninth.
But the Roadrunners weren't finished yet. Ryan Gunhouse led off with a single, and one out later David Pfuntner drew a walk. Reavis struck out the next hitter, and up stepped pinch hitter Crenshaw – mired in a frustrating slump of late – representing the 'Runners' last hope. On a 2-2 pitch, Crenshaw reached down for a low pitch and ripped a laser of a line drive toward the right-field wall. It wasn't a question of whether he'd hit it hard enough; it was a question as to whether he'd hit it high enough.
"I really thought that ball was going off the top of the wall," Livin said. "I was coaching third, trying to make sure David (Pfuntner) had a shot to tie the game. I looked up just in time to see the ball disappear over the wall.
"If anybody deserved to get to feel that way, it's Kyler. He's worked his tail off."
The two wins still guarantee nothing. With the conference's East Zone tightly clustered – five teams were within two games of one another – all Wednesday did for the Roadrunners was to leave them with a fighting chance. They'll still need things to fall into place with some of the other teams, but the 'Runners took a huge two-step by beating Texarkana.
"I swear, it's like a Rubik's cube in our zone," Livin said. "Turn things around to see one team, and you can't get the others lined up. All we know is we still have a chance, it's in our hands, and that's all we can ask for."