The Houston Tigers are back on top of the SCA.
Houston overcame a sloppy start and three-run deficit to rally past Ava 6-3 last Thursday and clinch the program’s fifth baseball conference championship.
These Tigers, who joined teams from 1975, ’92, 2001 and ’05 as SCA champs, can stake their claim as the only undefeated conference champs under coach Brent Hall. Houston (12-2, 6-0 SCA) faces Willow Springs on Saturday at Hammons Field in the conference finale.
“It’s pretty special,” Hall said of the SCA championship. “It’s big for these guys. They haven’t won many championships.”
This year’s baseball team may be changing things.
Houston, which also won the SCA Tournament to begin the 2010 season, wiped out a miserable start to the game with a strong finish. The Tigers scored in four consecutive innings to erase a 3-0 deficit. Kyle Poynter put the finishing touches on the conference-clinching victory with a two-run homer — his fourth of the year — in the sixth.
“I can’t say enough about the kids — the way they battled and played through it,” Hall said.
Poynter, who drove in three runs, and Eli Smith had three hits apiece. Chris Mooney scored twice.
Ava, which entered with an eight-game winning streak, scored a pair of unearned runs with two outs in the first inning. Matt Jenkins’ second RBI single with two outs in the second made it 3-0.
“We make mistakes. We just don’t make continous mistakes,” Hall said. “We don’t have an inning where the wheels fall off. These kids keep their heads up and keep playing the game.”
Poynter doubled home Jacob Case in the third for the Tigers’ first run. J.R. Knetzer scored on a wild pitch in the fourth to pull Houston within 3-2.
After a pair of scoreless innings, Hall instructed his players to be more patient at the plate against Ava left-hander Trae Shelton. They did, and the runs soon followed.
“When we scored that first run, it changed the way we were doing things, and it definitely changed what Ava was doing,” Hall said. “Their pitcher got a little tight and got rattled.”
Mooney and Smith scored on consecutive errors by shortstop Garrett Baird in the fifth to give the Tigers their first lead. Poynter added a pair of insurance runs when he lined a fastball over the left-center field fence in the sixth.
Poynter retired the last eight batters he faced to earn the complete-game victory. He struck out 11 and walked none. Only one of Ava’s runs was earned.
“When we took the lead, Kyle wasn’t going to let it fall on his end,” Hall said.