By Kevin Wilson: CNJ staff writer
PORTALES — Freddy Carmona’s neck hurts a little bit.
But the Eastern New Mexico University catcher won’t complain about that. Or when his bicep got hit by a foul tip. Or when he had wrist problems.
Tough to complain when first baseman/pitcher Seth Clabaugh lost teeth when he collided with a post at Central Oklahoma. Or when outfielder Jereme Johnson separated his shoulder. Or that shortstop Garrett Cook still has numbness in his arm from being hit by a pitch.
And so on, but the Greyhounds are still a playoff team for the first time in 15 years despite the litany of injuries.
“I would say (we’re) pretty tough,” said Carmona, who’s batting .406 and is one hit away from tying his own school record for hits in a season. “I’d definitely say we were tougher than previous teams I’ve played for.”
As the Greyhounds (28-26, 23-21 Lone Star Conference) head into this weekend’s Lone Star Conference tournament, hosted by Abilene Christian, you can consider longtime coach Phil Clabaugh convinced.
“You name it and it’s happened to them, and yet they’ve been able to play through that,” Clabaugh said. “I’m not trying to take away from our squad, but I think we’re a hell of a lot tougher than we are talented.”
The Greyhounds have won eight of their last 12, and are seeded fifth in the six-team, double-elimination tournament, which begins Saturday when No. 1 Cameron takes on Tarleton State in an 11 a.m. (CDT) affair.
The next game features ENMU against second-seeded Angelo State. The Greyhounds split a four-game home series with the Rams in March, and have an extra boost of confidence knowing that a bottom seed can win — like last year, when Texas A&M-Kingsville beat ENMU by a half-game in the standings for the No. 6 spot and won the tournament to advance to the Division II regionals.
“I got to play some summer ball with Sam Strickland, who was a pitcher for Kingsville last year,” Carmona said. “He was talking about how good the team was looking. I told him all we have to do is get into sixth place, and anything can happen.”
And anything does happen in the LSC championship, Phil Clabaugh said, having been a spectator in each previous tournament.
“The conference tournament does crazy things to everybody,” Clabaugh said. “Pitchers throw a little harder, base-stealers run a little faster.”
But the Rams are seeded second for good reason, Clabaugh said, because they don’t give away at-bats and their pitchers don’t give a lot of free passes.
“They’re going to put pressure on us from an offensive standpoint,” he said. “They put the ball in play, and once they get there they can make things happen with their overall team speed.”
Clabaugh thinks Carmona is the LSC’s best catcher, but Angelo State’s Trey Carter is a close second. And then there’s designated hitter Keith Towne, who Clabaugh half-jokingly calls “Babe Ruth” — Towne has hit 25 home runs this season, two fewer than the entire Greyhounds roster.
“You’ve got to keep a hitter like that off-balance,” Carmona said. “If you’re going to go in, go in hard and make sure he can’t get it out of the park.”
Seth Clabaugh is penciled in to start Saturday’s game.
“If we can get 15 outs with him and stay in the game,” Phil Clabaugh said, “it will be a good call because I think our relief can take care of it (from there).”
At Abilene, Texas
(Seeds in parentheses)
All times MDT
Game 1: Cameron (1) vs. Tarleton State (6), 10 a.m.
Game 2: Angelo State (2) vs. Eastern New Mexico (5), 2 p.m.
Game 3: Abilene Christian (3) vs. Southeastern Oklahoma (4), 6 p.m.
Game 4: Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser, 10 a.m.
Game 5: Game 1 winner vs. Game 3 loser, 2 p.m.
Game 6: Game 2 winner vs. Game 3 winner, 6 p.m.
Remaining tournament schedule TBA