LUFKIN, TX (News Release) - They had two games to do it, but the Angelina College Lady Roadrunners chose to go the early celebration route instead.
AC's ladies pounded San Jacinto 14-8 on Sunday to win the Region XIV conference tournament held at Angelina College. San Jac made it into the title game following a 5-2 win over Trinity Valley earlier in the day, but needed three wins in a day to unseat the Lady Roadrunners.
That wasn't going to happen against a team that has won 23 of its last 26 games.
Three two-run homers and some timely hitting later, the Lady 'Runners were posing at midfield with the big, bronze championship plaque - this the reward for a team that did not have a single returning player from last year's roster. AC's team consisted of a group of incoming freshmen and a pair of cast-off sophomores, all of whom contributed in some way to the team's march to a title.
Head coach Mark Mattson received his second celebratory ice-water bath in the past month – he won his 100th game as a junior college coach back in April - and said while it appeared as if his team was ahead of schedule, the success was an expectation all along.
"Absolutely," Mattson said. "When we recruited these kids, we got a lot of the kids we wanted. Some of them were leftover players, and I couldn't believe they were still out there and available. Once we got them on campus and got to know them better, I knew this could be big.
"Barbi (Mattson, assistant coach) and I always talk about building fast. That's not really up to us; it's up to the kids. But this group has by far the most determination of any group I've coached in the past 16 years. They're aggressive at the plate, and nothing bothers them."
The Lady Roadrunners outscored opponents 29-15 over the four-day tournament, culminating with Sunday's slugfest. Kassie James and Taylor Harper each hit two-run homers in the first inning, and Trina Deyo added a two-run shot in the seventh, upping AC's long-ball total to 57 for the season. In between, Sage Martinez celebrated her birthday with a double, a single and three runs scored; Melissa Boland singled twice; Meranda Rodriguez drove in a run with two singles; and Tessa Thomas added a pair of singles. Deyo finished her day a solid 4-for-4 with her homer, a double and two singles.
In all, AC finished with 13 hits, five of which went for extra bases.
Mattson said his team's ability to put bad at-bats or bad plays has been a crucial factor in battling its way into contention. In the past six weeks, AC has knocked off three of the nation's top 10 teams, so an error or a strikeout here and there has had little to no effect.
"One of our things in practice every day is learning to forgive yourself and your teammates, to be quick forgetters no matter what happens. They always knew they had a chance.
"We've put up some big innings throughout the year, and I think that helped our kids realize we're never out of a game. One run, two runs, is not a safe deficit as far as we're concerned."