Prior to Thursday's afternoon practice session, Angelina College head baseball coach Jeff Livin took a few minutes to address his team. The players hadn't even strapped on gloves and cleats yet as they listened to his 15 years of experience describe the upcoming Region XIV tournament.
"If we play like the team that finished the season with six straight wins, we can beat anybody," Livin told the 'Runners. "Don't worry about who were playing, or anything else other than playing our game."
Livin also invoked the tournament's history, specifically the teams that, like the Roadrunners, entered as a fourth seed.
"Records and stats don't matter now," he said. "All that matters starting Saturday is giving your best and playing your own game."
That this AC team was even packing its gear to make the trip is remarkable. Two short weeks ago, the Roadrunners appeared dead in the water when it came to beating the odds of making the tournament. With an East Zone record of 10-12, AC was trailing the pack as the season wound to a close.
Then something clicked, and the Roadrunners reeled off six straight wins, including sweeps of first-place Texarkana and third-place Panola. The result left the players holding off on their summer vacation plans.
Angelina College will open the conference tournament beginning with a seemingly annual battle with San Jacinto's Gators, a team that rolled to a 40-9 overall record and a 27-3 mark in league play. However, the Gators reportedly will be without at least two of their staff aces due to injury.
AC (28-26, 16-12) will counter the talented Gators with a team riding momentum and emotion. Freshmen Ryan Gunhouse (.367, 5 HR, 19 RBI in conference play) and Grant Clyde (.359, 6 HR, 26 RBI) and Todd Wallace (.318, 5 HR, 22 RBI), along with sophomores David Pfuntner (.355) and Greg Garcia (.341) lead the offensive attack that has seen its share of other players beginning to find a groove. Kyler Crenshaw created a lasting memory of his junior college career with a three-run, walk off homer against Texarkana, and several other upperclassmen found ways to contribute down the stretch.
The offense, combined with a pitching staff that posted a team ERA of 4.26, give the Roadrunners more than enough opportunity to take on the "bigger" teams in the post-season.
Just ask Livin. He's more than willing to pit his team against anyone at this point.