Remembering the Hinds champions of 1989
Author’s note: This story is one of many about the record-setting, history-making Hinds Community College baseball team of 1989 and is an excerpt from Diary of a Mad Baseball Coach by Rick Clarke, the head baseball coach at Hinds from 1983-2005. The 1989 season marked the merger of the predominately white Raymond campus and the all-black Utica campus. teams of Hinds Community College. Merging these two baseball programs, each successful on their own, was not a simple task. But the ’89 team did things that no other Mississippi Community College baseball team had ever done. And 25 years later, the 1989 team is still the only team to win a division, state, regional, and district championship, and play in the JUCO World Series in Grand Junction, Colorado in the same season.
By Rick Clarke
The 1989 season had more drama than one team could possibly stand, but there was never more drama than the five-game battle that was the Eastern District Tournament in Greenville, South Carolina.
We had lost the tournament opener 5-0 to national powerhouse, Louisburg (NC) College. The Hurricanes had won 9 Eastern District championships and played in Grand Junction 9 times. It was a spring ritual for them. Their coach was the legendary NJCAA and ABCA Hall of Famer Russ Frazier, who had coached at Louisburg for 40 years and had won 1034 games.
Now we would have to regroup and find a way to win two games on Saturday and 2 more on Sunday to have probably our only chance in life to make it to Grand Junction. And we were a little short-handed on the mound depth-wise and it seemed like a monumental task.
On Saturday, we beat the host team Greenville (SC) by the score of 4-3 to stay alive. Closer Mark Anders pitched an incredible 6 1/3 innings of no-hit and scoreless relief and won his 10th game of the season. Noah James hit a game-winning solo home run (his 19th of the season) in the top of the fifth.
That brought on a rematch with Louisburg in an elimination game. They had lost earlier in the day to Aquinas Junior College out of Nashville, Tennessee. We had played the Hurricanes once in the 1987 Eastern District tournament and lost and then lost again in the opening round of this tournament. We had not even really competed well in our two games.
Well, we must have lulled them to sleep, because with our backs against the wall, we eliminated Louisburg from the tournament by the score of 13-8. Everything we did worked. Hitting, hitting with power, solid defense, double plays, stolen bases, suicide squeezes, etc. We had 15 hits in the game. Centerfielder Scott Williams was 4-4 with a solo home run, shortstop Jeff Long drove in 3 runs, and Doug Thomas hit a 2-run homer, his 15th of the season
Terry Gray (2-0) went an much needed 8 strong innings for the win. Anders returned to the mound in game two to record three outs in the ninth. It was not a “save” situation, but we just wanted the last three outs secured. We didn’t call it a save. It was a “W” we were looking for.
That set up a Sunday match-up with Aquinas. We would have to defeat them twice to be the first Mississippi team to ever advance to Grand Junction. They needed to win just once for their first trip.
Now Aquinas was located in Tennessee, but most of their players were from Puerto Rico, so they played the game in Spanish and we played the game in English.
Terre Woods hit a solo home run in the top of the ninth to put us ahead 7-6. It was clutch, as usual, and his 12 HR of the year. Doug Thomas hit his second home run of the day, his 16th, earlier in the game. Anders returned to mound yet again in relief of starter Freddie Hill, this time in the 8th inning, and retired the final five hitters to pick up his 11th win to set up a winner-take-all contest. The stakes had never been higher.
Because of all of the adversity in the other dugout, we were learning an awful lot of four-letter words spoken in Spanish. They seemed a little uptight. We seemed loose and quite determined to get the job done.
And what a great game it turned out to be. With the score tied 3-3 in the bottom of the seventh, Rip (Noah James) delivered a two-run single to put us ahead with just two innings to play. Cedric Robinson was outstanding on the mound and pitched 8 innings, giving up single runs in the second, third, and eighth innings. And then it was Mark Anders…once again, on for the 5th time in 5 games, this time with a real “save” opportunity; save the game, save our season, save our dreams, etc. No pressure. If he got three outs, the Eagles were flying high to Colorado.
With two runners on and two outs for Aquinas, their hitter hit a long fly ball deep into the gap in right-center field. If it fell in, they would tie the game and although we would bat last, there were no guarantees that we would win. A catch “guaranteed it.” If it was caught, we were going to the JUCO World Series.
This is when the game seemed to go into slow motion. Our centerfielder, Scott Williams, who was not the fastest player on the team and was hearing impaired and could not hear the “crack of the bat”, had to rely on his eyesight and instincts to get a great jump on the ball and have a chance to catch it.
It seemed like it just hung up there forever. Is it going to drop in? Is he going to make the catch? Do they go? Do we go?
And then in full stride, he reached out with what I remember being a very, very long glove….and then the ball went in the pocket of the glove and as he closed the glove, secured it, and continued to run on through it….pandemonium struck, on both sides. It was the thrill of victory on our side in English, and the agony of defeat on their side, in Spanish. Two and a half decades later, we simply refer to it as, “The Catch,” another classic moment in time for Hinds baseball.
We had done it! We were the first Mississippi team in history to accomplish this feat, and there were many, many great teams and great coaches through the years who never got to experience this. It was a complete team effort, coupled with outstanding individual performances, confidence, motivation, determination, balls and toughness. Oh yeah, Anders had two wins and two saves in the tournament. What a performance by our closer. Plus the great defense, the timely hitting, big home runs, the clutch stolen bases, starting pitchers who took us deep into the game, the great bunting game where we beat out bunt singles, moved runners into scoring position with sacrifices, and scored runners with safety and suicide squeezes, and just plenty of heart, grit and resolve.
And I found myself embraced with my coaching buddy George McQuitter, bear hugging each other and hopping around like we had really done something special.
We will never forget the accomplishments of 1989 Hinds Community College baseball team, where blacks and whites and arch-enemies came together as one and accomplished something special, something no one had ever done before in the Magnolia state. 25 years later we can all still see it in our minds and feel it in our souls.
That’s the power of baseball. What a game!
Rick Clarke (www.CalltheCoach.info)