PNG nation welcomes home champions

Published 1:56 am Sunday, June 11, 2017

PORT NECHES — Some of them had just gotten back from Round Rock themselves, but the chance for countless Port Neches-Groves fans to welcome home their state champion baseball team from Dell Diamond was too good to sleep through.
“This is absolutely surreal,” said Mitch Murdock, father of senior PNG player Zach Murdock. “It’s been 36 years since PNG has brought home a state championship in any sport. This is the very first one in baseball. We are just tickled. You can see all the support. Just incredible. A great, great feeling.”
Hundreds began packing the PNG baseball parking lot Saturday night before 9 p.m. for their championship celebration. Just a little more than 6 hours earlier, the Indians captured their first state baseball title in school history, beating Grapevine 4-2 in the Class 5A final.
The feat also marks greater Port Arthur’s first state baseball crown in 34 years (Thomas Jefferson) and PNG’s first team state title in any sport in 36 years (volleyball).
“This is PNG-proud right here,” Indians coach Scott Carter said. “It’s all about Indian nation.”
Carter, a 27-year coaching veteran who finished his fourth at PNG, won two state championships early in his career in Louisiana. But he said he never had been a part of a celebration like Saturday night.
“This is the most amazing thing,” Carter said. “This is the happiest day of my life. I’m so excited.”
Senior pitcher Brandon Morse was named 5A state tournament MVP and took in the block party of sorts with his teammates and supporters.
“It means a lot. It’s awesome. It’s the best thing I ever experienced,” Morse said.
Band members repeatedly played “Cherokee” with 5-year-old Ty Trahan performing the Indian Spirit dance before and after the team bus arrived. Cell phones capturing the players stepping off the Sun Travel bus lit up the night sky, as did the refinery lights in the backdrop.
Carter asked Ty to perform again just minutes later and gave the youngster a big hug. The two posed together with the state championship trophy.
To PNG junior pitcher and first baseman Josh Hranicky, the scene Saturday night was emblematic of the atmosphere during the day in Round Rock, when 4,923 witnessed the Indians make their own history.
“It’d have to be, every time we stepped on that field and looked up the stands, it was a whole sea of purple,” Hranicky said, asked what his favorite part of the trip was. “The whole community was backing us.”
Said Holden Lane, whose two-run single put PNG ahead for good in Thursday’s semifinal win over Frisco Wakeland: “Every part was my favorite.”
Mitch Murdock graduated from PNG in 1986 and wore the same number (17) Zach did this year. He said a celebration like this is the “kind of stuff” that keeps those who grew up in the area home.
The thrill of seeing PNG win state in Round Rock and coming home to fete them, however, was hard to describe, he said.
“We only went to the second round [when I played], and it’s just one of things where you say, ‘We have done it for the first time ever,’” Murdock said. “They have basically immortalized themselves as first-time champions in baseball.”
Had it not been for the Indians’ run to Round Rock, Murdock’s travel plans still would have taken him north of Port Neches, but in a different direction. An older son of his is moving to Ohio.
“We’re supposed to be moving him right now,” he said. “I put him on a plane on Wednesday. I said, we’ll be there on Sunday. We drove the U-Haul to Round Rock.”
Troy Priddy, a 1992 PNG graduate and father of students in the school district, was one of the fans at Round Rock earlier in the day.
“It was electric, exciting, and you couldn’t ask for anything better,” Priddy said of the game atmosphere.
As for the night’s festivities, Priddy added: “It just shows you what the community is all about. The community comes together for any type of special occasion, and this is a special moment for the kids and the community and everybody that’s involved.”

I.C. Murrell: 721-2435. Twitter: @ICMurrellPANews

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About I.C. Murrell

I.C. Murrell was promoted to editor of The News, effective Oct. 14, 2019. He previously served as sports editor since August 2015 and has won or shared eight first-place awards from state newspaper associations and corporations. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, grew up mostly in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

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