Funny how life throws curve balls and it was only discovered thanks to a rain postponement of our Carolina Mudcats game. Instead of working, I was home watching the sports and heard that in a couple of days, the Division II College Playoffs and Championship would be played in Cary NC, only twenty-five minutes from my home. As I googled the teams playing, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Southern New Hampshire was the number seven seed. I had interviewed their ace Alex Gomes two years ago when he played summer ball in the New England Collegiate Baseball League for the North Adams Steeplecats.
It turned into a long day between my job for the minor league team (only when you have something going on later, do they go on long inning sprees and a delay for bench clearing!) and going to Southern New Hampshire’s game. I battled two heavy rain showers between the two ballparks. When I got to Cary, the weather was gorgeous, but the first game with Angelo State and Wingate was running late due a weather delay. The game ended at 6:45PM (forty-five mins after the scheduled start of Southern New Hampshire and second-seeded Seton Hill game). They rescheduled the second game to an 8PM start. The teams were already there resting on a grassy hill so I’m not sure why the much later start.
I was initially told at the field that SNH would be on visitors’ side and their dugout would be on 3rd base side. It was a perfect location as I had a seat right over the dugout and adjacent to the bullpen so I knew I would be able to yell to Alex. They ended up on the 1st base side so I moved over. Unfortunately, on that side, the bleachers above the dugout were roped off except to coaches for the other teams who were there scouting and inactive players. I was able to get word to him through the first base coach so he did wave my direction from the dugout.
The game itself was a nail biter with the SNH Penmen scoring first, but the number two seed came back with vengeance and were leading by the fourth inning. SNH would not be denied and thanks to a hit-by-pitch, steal and a wild pitch, they tied the game with two outs in the sixth. An error by the Penmen in the eighth with two outs assured Seton Hill of a 4 – 3 win.
Two days later was Southern New Hampshire facing sixth seed Wingate. Like the Penmen, the Bulldogs had already lost their first game to Angelo State. The winner of this game would move on in the tournament and the season would end for the loser. Wingate had a fan base which had driven the two and half hours from the Charlotte area and appeared to engulf the ballpark. A pretty good contingent of SNH fans, who we cheered with during game one, scattered near the third base area where the Penmen’s dugout was.
A familiar face began pre-game stretches in the outfield. I guess you could call it a two-days early birthday present. Gomes was the starting pitcher for Southern New Hampshire. He came into the tournament with six wins and zero losses. Alex still had the brunette curly hair and the boyish grin I witnessed two years ago. When he took to the mound, his six-foot three-inch frame commanded respect. As he threw, his right leg was extended and nearly parallel to the playing field. Imagine Dragons’ “Whatever It Takes” blared over the PA system. His determined demeanor was like a racehorse as referenced in the lyrics.
The game stayed knotted at zero until the fifth inning when the “can’t get the third out” reared its ugly head again as Wingate scored two runs on Alex and the defense. Apparently, Coach Loiseau hadn’t given up on his starting pitcher as Gomes returned in the sixth inning and shut the Bulldogs down. Despite the blemish of the two runs, Alex’s start was very good. In his six innings, he gave up seven hits, seventy-one of his hundred and five pitches were strikes and he had eight strikeouts, one walk and a wild pitch. Once out of the game, Alex donned a blue towel on his head and cheered his team on each inning. It was not until the bottom of the ninth that there was any offense by the Penmen. Wingate prevailed 3 – 2 and went on to win the championship a few days later.
After the game, Gomes walked alone to the outfield and stood out there for a few minutes, then returned to the dugout. His catcher, Marcus Chavez, tried to take his arm. Alex shrugged him off and continued walking. Unlike the previous summers, he has not shown as playing collegiate baseball. Perhaps it was the end of the road for the right-hander. I hope not.