Houston Hardball League, 18+ Open Division (Spring Season)
Conroe Mudcats 8, Texas Orioles 2
‘Burchett Baffles Orioles for Championship Victory’
Submitted by Jake Downey, Mudcats manager
The Conroe MudCats and Texas Orioles met in the Open division championship game of the Houston Hardball League’s 2021 Spring Season title. The MudCats had split the season series with the Orioles at 1-1, with the run differential in those two games being slightly in favor of the Orioles, 7-5. The Orioles came out of the regular season as the top seed, while the MudCats ended the regular season in third place.
The Orioles and MudCats carried a stalemate into the third frame. The MudCats threatened to strike first in the top of the third inning, and strike they did. The inning was started by walks to Daniel Nichols and Jake Downey. Travis Turner then served a solid line drive into right field to put the MudCats up 1-0. After a strikeout, the top of the third came to an end with the MudCats up 1-0.
The MudCats started righty Daniel Nichols on the mound. He led the team in innings pitched on the mound and also tied for the team lead in home runs (4). Dan was as reliable as always but in the bottom of the fourth, Nichols got in a pinch due to an error at third base. After a double down the right-field line and a hit batsman, Nichols found the bases loaded with Orioles and only one out. He induced a ground ball up the middle, which looked to get him out of the inning, but the ball took a funny hop and handcuffed our shortstop, Lance Miles. Despite a great effort to keep the ball in the infield, the ball rolled into center field and led to the only two runs of the game for the Orioles. Nichols proceeded to walk the next runner, which was amazingly his first walk of the season.
The Orioles attempted a “squeeze play”, but our third baseman’s throw to Turner behind the dish cut the run off at the plate. There were two outs in the inning, but the bases were still loaded with Orioles. The burden on the bump was then turned to ‘Mikey’ Burchett, another quality, seasoned veteran to shut the door in the fourth. A huge strikeout then put an end to the only legitimate threat the Orioles would muster for the remainder of the game.
With a delivery reminiscent of Brad Ziegler, Burchett’s stuff is nasty, making the Orioles batters defensive the rest of the evening. They wouldn’t put together any kind of threat for the remaining 4+ innings. Burchett was spectacular and came up big in relief of Nichols. The Orioles were up 2-1 headed into the fifth.
In the top of the fifth, hard-hit singles by Fernando “Fro” Rodriguez and Jeremy Gutowski put the Mudcats back on the front foot. Lance Miles then proceeded to blast a scorched line-drive double over the left fielder’s head scoring both Fro and Gutowski. The MudCats were back on top 3-2, but the onslaught did not let up there.
In the top of the sixth, after a walk to Travis Turner, Miles came in to pinch-run for Turner, the MudCats’ backstop. After a passed ball pushed Miles to second, and a balk sent him to third, Miles capitalized on the Orioles’ lefty’s slow delivery. With Daniel Nichols at the plate for the MudCats, and two outs in the inning, Miles broke for home, warning Nichols to “Get out of there! Get out of there!”, as he sprinted daringly toward home. The very attempt made everyone in the stadium immediately draw on memories of The Sandlot from childhood when Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez swiped home, as Miles slid in safely at home. It was the definition of foolish, phenomenal, reckless, and spectacular all wrapped into one. The MudCats padded the lead after six, now standing at 4-2.
In the top of the seventh, the MudCats would put the nail in the proverbial coffin. Leadoff walks again to Downey and Turner brought Michael “Mikey Dub” Wilkinson to the plate. On a heater on the inner half, Wilkinson ripped the offering over the wall in left, dashing the Orioles’ hopes of mounting a comeback with so little baseball left to play. The MudCats’ dugout was erupting as Wilkinson rounded first with his hands in the air. Wilkinson’s swing opened up the lead for the MudCats, but there was still more to be had for the MudCats’ hitters on the evening.
The Orioles would threaten again one last time in the bottom of the seventh, but the threat was quickly stifled by a great play in right field by Ryan Elliott. With a runner on first, the Orioles sharply struck a line drive down the right-field line that looked to be extra bases and looked to push a run across. With a nice play to cut the ball off before rolling to the wall, Elliott made a great throw to first baseman Eric Dluzniewski. A perfect relay throw to Turner behind the dish cut down the runner at the plate. The MudCats closed the inning down from there and extinguished the last chance the Orioles would have to push more runs across.
In the top of the eighth, an absolute laser of a double was smashed into left-center by outfielder Cody Christmas. That double was followed by another sharp single by Fro to put the last emphatic run on the board for the MudCats. Burchett, reliably and decisively, slammed the door shut in the bottom of the eighth as time ran out on the clock. The MudCats were champs, again. It was their second title in three Spring seasons in the Houston Hardball League 18+ Open Division. That was all she wrote as the Mudcats put a resounding end to the Spring 2021 season holding the trophy, and reclaiming their title as “champions” that they first captured in the Spring of 2019.