Improbable approach has Apaches in final three

They are good friends with 2-1, 3-2 and 4-3 games, because they usually win them.

They’re used to winning despite often getting outhit by their opponents.

Cochise (Ariz.) College coach Todd Inglehart even joked about that fact with his players Thursday when the Apaches had an early lead against Spartanburg (S.C.) Methodist College despite the Pioneers doubling up on them in the hits column.

“Once they had more hits than us, I just tell them we have them right where we want them,” Inglehart said. “When we’re outhitting someone, it’s 50/50, but once we have fewer hits ….”

Thursday in many ways was what the Apaches have been all about in this magical Alpine Bank Junior College World Series, as they now are among the three remaining teams, all with one loss, with a shot at a national championship. This, after Cochise opened the tourney Sunday with a 2-1 loss, then had to win three straight elimination games to get to today’s 7 p.m. game against Central Alabama. The winner plays Palm Beach State (Fla.) College for the championship at 7 p.m. Saturday.

But Thursday was another level of insanity when it comes to how the Apaches win games. Spartanburg outhit Cochise 14-6. The Apaches still won 10-3.

“Wow. You know what? When you get two-out hits, you don’t walk people and you play defense, that may happen,” Inglehart said. “But not that bad. I mean that is ridiculous.”

But it’s no accident the Apaches have gotten this far into the World Series in a season that comes on the heels of two .500 seasons.

Cochise has pitching, or as Inglehart put it, “I’d take my staff against any staff in the country, really.”

Inglehart said there may be a few programs out there better at the top, but in terms of pitching depth, “I’d have a hard time not taking my guys. When you have a bunch of talented guys like we have, it makes everyone better. … One through six, I’d take my guys against anyone.”

The Apaches also play great defense, error-free through four games in Grand Junction, and sometimes they make highlight-reel plays. It’s the kind of stuff that lets pitchers throw strikes without fear of getting hit.

And then there’s Cochise’s approach at the plate: Get on base any way you can. Get into scoring position. Race home on that timely hit because somehow it’s coming.

Spartanburg coach Tim Wallace was dismayed to say the Apaches were uncanny in that department Thursday, although his pitching staff helped Cochise’s cause.

“We kept getting guys on base, we just couldn’t get a big hit,” Wallace said. “And it seems like every time they got somebody on, if a guy got to second, they snuck one through and stayed up on us.”

That’s Cochise. That’s what they do, albeit to the extreme Thursday.

Jokes about preferring to be outhit aside, Inglehart said, “It’s just taking advantage of things that happen. We’re not going to sit there and rake, rake, rake. It’s just we’re going to have to do the little things to win.

“If we go back and look at all of the games we played outside of a couple — that’s 70 games — I would say I could look back at maybe four or five, there were critical moments we had a chance to win every single game. I say four or five, it may not be that many.

“We played 2-to-1, 3-to-2, 4-to-3 games all year, and there’s been very few separation games, so our guys are used to it.”

Well, the past two wins have been separation games, as the Apaches actually did outhit an opponent and routed Neosho County (Kan.) Community College 16-1. That’s the same Neosho team that edged Cochise 2-1 in the opener, sending the Apaches into the losers’ bracket to take the long road back to contention.

Maybe that was the best route for them.

“We’re a really scrappy team,” said Thursday’s winning pitcher, Zach Rodgers, who couldn’t bend over to tie his shoes a month ago because of a sprained back. “We’re just really consistent. We’re never going to give up. We’re going to go out every game and give it 110 percent and just keep pushing forward.”

The reward for that approach just might be a national championship.

Tim Harty is The Daily Sentinel’s sports and recreation editor. Email him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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