For the first time in their three-year history, the East Texas Pump Jacks will play for the Texas Collegiate League championship.
That bears repeating, if only because the achievement was anything but easy: Beginning Friday night at historic Driller Park, the Pump Jacks are just two wins away from capturing their first TCL title.
Andy Steinmetz quieted the Brazos Valley Bombers with eight strong innings, and Lee Orr and Zac Fisherhit home runs as the Pump Jacks beat the Bombers, 5-4, Thursday night at Driller Park. The game was the decisive contest in their best-of-three Divisional Series, allowing the Jacks to advance to the TCL Championship Series.
Steinmetz turned in his second straight dominant performance in only his second start of the summer. He had worked exclusively in relief this season until starting for the Jacks against the Alexandria Aces last Sunday.
That’s not to say he was inexperienced starting games, and head coach Ben Taylor can attest to that personally. Steinmetz recently completed two seasons at Scottsdale Community College with Taylor, where he helped lead the Fighting Artichokes to a second-place finish in the 2009 NJCAA Division II World Series.
On Thursday, Steinmetz relied on his usual plan of attack – letting his defense do most of the work – and it worked to near perfection. He registered ten outs through the air and nine on the ground, with just three Bombers sent to the dugout by way of strikeout.
Steinmetz retired twelve straight hitters from the second through fifth innings. As a result, Brazos Valley managed just three singles through the first eight innings.
With a 5-0 lead entering the ninth inning, Steinmetz came out to try to finish what he started. But after a single and an error, he was replaced on the hill by All-TCL lefty Brad Kottman. The Brown freshman walked one and then faced Wes Patterson, perhaps the last Bomber a hurler wants to see in a clutch situation. Patterson delivered with a grand slam, taking a comfortable lead and turning it into a one-run nail-biter… with a berth in the title series on the line.
But Patterson wasn’t the only player in the ballpark who recognized the gravity of the situation and was ready to step up. Just two days after starting Game One of the series, Miguel Penaasked for the ball again – and then showed by the San Diego Padres are drooling over their 13th round selection.
With the crowd on its feet, Pena allowed a two-strike single to the first batter he faced, who then moved into scoring position on a groundout. The lefty then ushered the Pump Jacks into the finals with consecutive strikeouts to close out the game.
While Jacks pitching was holding the Bombers at bay, East Texas hitters contributed just as they had all season long: Taking advantage of what the opposing pitching staff would give them, injecting timely hitting as necessary. Pump Jacks pitchers worked the Bombers for ten walks, adding several timely blasts to build an ultimately insurmountable lead.
Orr, in his customary leadoff spot, crushed Brannon Easterling’s fourth pitch of the ballgame beyond the left field fence for a 1-0 Pump Jack lead. It was Orr’s second homer in as many days against the Bombers.
In the third inning, Matt Carvutto drew a two-out, full-count walk to bring up Fisher. The TCL Freshman of the Year didn’t disappoint, launching the ball to the tops of the trees over the right-center field wall, giving his team a 3-0 lead.
Fisher, who was 3-for-3 on the night and finished a triple short of the cycle, scored the Jacks’ next run in the seventh inning. He drew a one-out walk, and by the time Alec Mills faced Chase Graskewicz three batters later, he had wild pitched Fisher around the bases and across the plate.
The fifth and final run for the home team came in the eighth inning. Brandon Wood, who once again played an excellent defensive center field, hit a soaring drive to right-center field and glided into third base for a standing triple. Orr, the TCL Player of the Year, stepped up one out later and lofted a fly ball to center. Wood tagged and scored easily to extend the lead to 5-0 – a run that proved far more valuable in the end than it seemed at the time.
The result reinforced why it was so important to the Pump Jacks to secure home field advantage for at least the first round of the playoffs. By winning the second-half division title on the last game of the season, East Texas guaranteed that a decisive Game Three would be played on home turf. With their two wins at Driller Park in the postseason, the Pump Jacks are now an impressive 24-6 at home this summer.
The Jacks can use that stellar home field record to grab a lead in the TCL Championship Series, but ultimately the title will have to be won on the road. The #1-seeded Victoria Generals were pushed to a decisive third game as well, edging the Texas Tomcats 4-2 on Thursday night to secure their second straight appearance in the finals. As an expansion team last year, the Generals were defeated by the then-Coppell Copperheads in the championship series.
Victoria and East Texas tied for the league’s best record in the regular season, but the Generals got the top spot by virtue of their head-to-head record against the Jacks.
As a result, Game One of the TCL Championship Series will take place at historic Driller Park at 7:05 pm on Friday. It will be the final home game of the summer for Pump Jacks Nation.
The scene will shift to Victoria’s Riverside Stadium on Saturday for the second game of the series. If a third and final game is necessary, it will be held in Victoria on Sunday.
The Pump Jacks faithful are invited to Driller Park to show the Generals just what home field advantage is all about for Friday’s game. Come the weekend, Pump Jacks Nation can follow the conclusion of the series on Pump Jacks TV by visiting the Jacks’ official web site at www.pumpjacksbaseball.com.