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 Tuesday, August 16, 1994

SPORTS

 C-4 


 

East Texas takes Tri-County title




Of The Morning Call



A unique thing about the East Texas Longhorns is that the players are from different generations with perhaps nothing more in common than a love for baseball.

But after a 6-3 victory over visiting Silver Creek last night, the Longhorns, young and old alike, had another thing in common -- they were all Tri-County League champions.

Youngsters Matt Moore and Hassan DeJesus combined for four hits and five RBI, while veterans George Horn and Mike Witkowski chipped in with key hits as East Texas (26-10) closed out the best-of-5 title series with its third win in four games.

"It's just bleepin' great," said a champagne-soaked Horn, the player-manager who has played for 17 seasons in the Tri-County League and had never won a title before.

"I've waited a long time and it really feels good. I played on Parkland High's 1975 District 11 title team. In fact, I'm the last one still playing from that team. I hadn't won a championship since then. But I don't think I'll stop here. We should be a force to reckon with for years."

The Longhorns hardly backed into the crown. They took control of last night's game early, building a 3-0 lead after two innings and doubled that margin after four.

Lanky right-hander Josh Gunkel, an Ichabod Crane look-a-like according to one Longhorn fan, scared away Silver Creek through five innings with his nasty breaking ball.

Gunkel, an Allen High product, blanked the Raiders on two hits through five. He surrendered three hits and three runs in the sixth - - two coming on a throwing error -- and departed.

But Troy Phillips came on to get the final out of the sixth and yielded nothing more than a walk in nailing down the title in the seventh.

"That was the story of this team; one guy picking up another," said Jeff Duke, who ended a long Tri-County career and a 37-year baseball career with his first league title of any kind. "Whenever we needed a lift, somebody to fill in, we had somebody ready to answer the call. It's a great bunch of guys."

None were greater than Moore and DeJesus, who punished Raider pitchers throughout the series from the top two spots of the order.

DeJesus, who will begin football practice at Lafayette today, singled and scored on Horn's RBI single in the first.

In the third, Scott Godshalk and Witkowski singled and scored on Moore's slasher up the middle. Moore, the son of Dieruff sports legend Ross Moore, added to his own legacy by stroking an RBI single in the fourth and scored on DeJesus' two-run hit.

"The older guys on this team do a great job and teach us younger guys a lot," said leadoff man Moore, a 1992 Northampton High grad who is continuing his career at Montgomery Junior College in Rockville, Md. "We're still a young team, but the older guys give us a lift.

"I feel I can hit anywhere in the lineup. I have some power. Usually, I try to put the ball on the ground and beat balls out. I think people give me too much credit for my speed, but I hustle."

In one sequence, Moore dashed from first to third on a grounder to third base. He also stole a base. He was one of the main reasons Silver Creek manager Steve Smull admitted, "East Texas simply outplayed us."

"Hats off to George Horn and all of those guys because they deserve it," said Smull, whose team was a league-best 26-4 during the regular season, but was stopped for the second straight year in the playoff finals.

"They beat our pitchers three games out of four. They got to Eric Steckel early tonight. We just kept putting ourselves in a hole and couldn't climb out of every one.

"It's devastating, crushing. We've gone 50-10 in the last two seasons and have nothing to show for it. We just came up short. We'll try again next year."

But there will be no next year for Duke. In a classy gesture, Horn inserted Duke at catcher for the final out.

Duke's dream was to catch the third strike for the title clincher. That didn't happen, but he enjoyed the moment anyway.

"I've been playing this game since I was five years old and I've never won a title," said the 42-year-old Duke. "I know I gave everything I have and at my age, there's not much left to give anymore. This is so enjoyable to end it all this way. I appreciate George giving me a shot. I'm really going to miss this game."

Fittingly, Duke was the last to leave the East Texas dugout. As he joined the celebration in the parking lot, he shouted, "Hey, I love you guys! But you better have saved a beer for me!"



keith.groller@mcall.com

  

From The Morning Call -- August 16, 1994

Copyright 1994, The Morning Call