Dream comes true: Father-son combo key for Connors State
The last time Connors State (Okla.) College was in the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series, coach Perry Keith was inducted into the NJCAA Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame.
This year, his son, Korey, is on the team that qualified for the World Series.
“This year is special,” Coach Keith said. “It’s been his goal his whole life. It’s a fairy tale dream come true.
“It’s a proud moment. Our alumni that have seen him grow up went crazy. He rode the bus with us (to Grand Junction) every time.”
This season also has been a fairy tale ride for the Cowboys.
“We’ve been steady all year,” Keith said. “We have a solid lineup one through nine. We don’t have one outstanding pitcher. We have five, six, seven guys who get outs and win.
“You look up and we’re 52-9. You have to be solid to do that.”
The third-ranked Cowboys are making their fifth appearance in the JUCO World Series and first since 2008. Connors State finished second in its region in 2010 and 2012, narrowly missing playing in the South Central District tournament for a chance to qualify for the World Series.
“It’s tough to get there,” Keith said. “We had some good teams that haven’t (qualified).
“This group, they’ve been the same group every day. It’s been a real easy group. I don’t need to motivate them. They just do it. They’ve been on a roll all season. I don’t know if we have any stars. They don’t beat themselves.”
Korey Keith, a sophomore, is second on the team with a .420 batting average. He has 11 doubles, seven home runs and 57 RBI.
Yariel Gonzalez might be the most talented player Keith has coached in his 28 seasons.
The freshman from Puerto Rico is hitting .421 with 16 doubles, one triple, 12 home runs and 71 RBI. He has eight stolen bases.
“Yariel is a switch-hitter and plays third base for us,” Keith said. “He’s got thunder in his hands. He hits well from both sides of the plate. He’s a solid kid. He’ll probably be the highest draft kid out of our program someday.”
Shortstop Dalton Daniels is hitting .381 with eight doubles, two triples, six home runs, 50 RBI and 12 stolen bases.
Philip Diedrick has some pop. He is hitting .307 with 14 doubles, nine home runs and 53 RBI, despite missing 20 games with an Achillies injury.
The Cowboys are second in the NJCAA in home runs with 58 and third in batting average (.355).
The pitching staff is solid, too, with a 3.00 ERA.
“The whole staff throws strikes and competes,” Keith said. “We get after the hitters, eliminate walks and put pressure on people.”
Kelvin Rivas and Daniel Concepcion are big right-handed pitchers. Josh Hammill is a short left-hander.
Rivas is 8-2 with a 2.56 ERA and 82 strikeouts in 66 2/3 innings. Concepcion is 8-1 with a 3.08 ERA and 77 strikeouts in 73 innings.
Hammill might not throw as hard, but is equally effective. He is 8-0 with a 3.50 ERA and 83 strikeouts in 72 innings.
“I call him ‘Little Leprechaun,’ ” Keith said. “He has a good breaking ball and knows how to pitch.”