No Rally, no problem: Navarro ready for JUCO World Series without Texas pond turtle
There was no turtle in the dugout this year, but the Navarro (Texas) College baseball team did have a duck at one time.
“It didn’t work,” Navarro coach Whoa Dill said. “It’s off in a pond somewhere.”
“Rally T. Turtle,” who was with the Bulldogs in the dugout most of their 2011 national championship season, is retired and living in an aquarium, Dill said.
All the players from that team, except Clint Wilson, are gone, but Navarro is back in Grand Junction playing for another junior college national title.
The fourth-ranked Bulldogs (43-15) won the Southern District title to qualify for the third time in the program’s history.
“These are good kids,” Dill said. “They are fun to be around. They don’t have the egos you get once in a while in a kid. I enjoy coming to work with them.”
Dill enjoys being around the team so much, he went fishing with them a couple of days after winning the district title.
This team is a mature, veteran group with 20 sophomores, including a couple of NCAA Division I transfers. Thirteen players on the team have signed with Division I teams for next year.
Navarro got off to a slow start, 5-5, through the first 10 games, but Dill wasn’t worried.
“We play a tough schedule,” Dill said. “We played Howard, San Jac, Grayson. We play the hardest teams I can possibly play early. I think it helps.”
The Bulldogs went 10-1 after that and didn’t look back, winning the Region XIV regular-season title.
Navarro did it with pitching and defense. The Bulldogs led the region with a 2.89 ERA. At one time, the team ERA was 1.90.
Lukas Shiraldi (10-0, 1.92 ERA) is the ace. The 6-foot-6, 215-pound right-hander was the conference pitcher of the year and rated the top player in the region by the coaches. He has signed with the University of Texas.
Gage Curry, rated third in the region, leads the team with 80 strikeouts in 84 innings pitched. The sophomore (9-2, 2.14 ERA) has signed with Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.
Zach Hobbs (4-4, 4.41) and Chad Young (7-1, 2.63 ERA) round out the staff.
Blake Griffin (4-1, 1.42 ERA) is the closer. He has nine saves.
“We can pitch,” Dill said. “Defensively, we are as good as we were in ‘11. I’m excited about our closer. This guy has a little more velocity.
“The pitching has been strong all season long.”
The Bulldogs are hitting .313 as a team, led by catcher John Clay Reeves, the Region XIV player of the year.
The sophomore, who transferred from the University of Arkansas, is hitting .377 with three home runs and 41 RBI.
“He’s a leader on the field,” Dill said. “He does a great job behind the plate. He can catch, throw and hit. He handles the pitchers well.”
Drake Roberts is hitting .355 with 13 doubles and 39 RBI. Tyler Wilson is hitting .318 with five home runs and 48 RBI.
“Our offense has come around,” Dill said. “At one time, we were hitting .278. I knew we could hit. It took a while to get going. Our field is humongous. We don’t strike out a heck of a lot. Our on-base percentage is pretty good.
“We try to play one more inning. Our pitching can hold teams down. With these bats now, you can’t play for the crooked number anymore. We preach two-out hits and move guys over.”