By Kevin Wilson: Freedom New Mexico
Clayton Young went to high school in Canyon, Texas. He considered playing for the hometown Buffaloes, but decided to go southwest to Portales.
If the senior left fielder held grudges, Saturday was the time to do it. But that’s not the story for Young, who singled during a season-saving six-inning seventh to help Eastern New Mexico University sweep a crucial Lone Star Conference doubleheader from West Texas A&M 11-10 and 9-1 for its first LSC tournament appearance since 1994.
“I think with any team it would have felt this good,” who went 2-for-3 with five walks and two runs scored in the twin bill. “It’s about our team.”
The Greyhounds (38-26, 23-21 LSC) are seeded fifth in the six-team field, and will play second-seeded Angelo State in a 2 p.m. (MDT) game Saturday in the LSC Championship, hosted by Abilene Christian.
Stuck in a three-way tie for fourth entering Saturday, the Greyhounds almost sealed their own fate by blowing an early five-run lead against a West Texas (20-33, 13-29) squad playing mainly for pride.
And when the Buffaloes led 10-5 entering the last of the seventh? That’s when the team relaxed.
“Coach came up to us and said we were still in contention (if we lost the opener),” Young said. “Guys started taking balls and swinging at good strikes.”
The Greyhounds sent 10 batters to the plate in their last inning, and scored five two-out runs. Senior first baseman Seth Clabaugh, who led off the inning with a base on balls, hit a walk-off single to score Jeremy Johnson, whose two-out, two-run double knotted the game at 10.
“When you’re that far behind, you have to string quality at-bats together,” Greyhounds coach Phil Clabaugh said. “That’s the way you get back in the game and we were able to do that.”
Unbeknownst to the Hounds, a loss by Southwestern Oklahoma punched ENMU’s playoff ticket by the seventh inning of the nightcap. But Eastern still left no doubt, scoring seven runs in the next two innings on Buffaloes starter Brandon Hickey (5-5) and reliever Orvil Aviles.
“I thought Hickey was pretty good today,” Clabaugh said. “There was an air of confidence we were going to get to him sooner or later.”
WT coach Greg Vanderburg thought his team played hard and was competitive, but a combination of game conditions and ENMU’s motivation to reach the playoffs.
“Obviously, Eastern New Mexico’s a good team,” Vanderburg said. “They got timely hits and did a great job.
“It was a tough day for us. The wind was blowing in and we had a lot of lefties in our lineup.”
Coach Clabaugh said getting three of four wins this weekend was key to give the team a winning record overall and in conference play, and all 25 guys were responsible.
“Our dugout played a critical role, because they kept momentum,” he said. “We had a great crowd today, we had a great crowd yesterday, but the kids play for each other.”