Pioneer pride: Spartanburg hoping for fair winds, good luck in Grand Junction
Tim Wallace wants another crack at winning a national championship — without the wind, please.
“We want to see typical Grand Junction weather,” the Spartanburg (S.C.) Methodist College coach said. “We want to be able to see the Grand Mesa from ground level. We’ll go up there, but we want to see it from the ground.”
Last year’s opening day brought 50 mph winds, not exactly conducive to hitting baseballs.
“If I never got back to Grand Junction, I didn’t want to let that 50-mile-an-hour wind be my last memory,” Wallace said. The Pioneers went 0-2 last year at JUCO, but enter this year’s tournament as the top-ranked team to survive the district gauntlet.
The Pioneers (45-13) have won 14 straight entering the World Series, something Wallace wasn’t sure would happen during a stretch in March, when they lost eight of 14 games to fall to 20-10.
“We went through a stretch our first conference weekend, spring break fell in there, and our second conference weekend, and we went 7-8 over a 10-day span,” he said.
“We couldn’t get anything done. It was frustrating, and then we made some changes and got more aggressive on the bases and we’ve taken off since then.”
With the switch to the BBCOR bats a couple of years ago, Wallace changed the makeup of his club.
“When we switched to these bats, the first year we didn’t have the right personnel,” he said. “We knew we had to get some guys who could run. This year we got some guys who can run. We swing it a little bit, we don’t have any power; I think we hit one (during the district tournament) and that gave us 13 (actually, 14) for the year.
“But I never claimed to be Earl Weaver and live for the three-run home run.”
No, the Pioneers are going to put the ball in play. And they’re going to run.
“We really didn’t start running until about halfway through the year,” Wallace said.
Imagine if they had started the season running — the Pioneers have 118 stolen bases this season in 139 chances.
“We hit that stretch when we struggled and went 7-8 and decided it was time to re-evaluate,” Wallace said. “You’ve got to give the kids credit. The things we try to do, they bought into it.”
He said it wasn’t tough to sell them on taking an extra base or stealing bases. They like putting pressure on the defense and picking up an extra run because of it. They’ve outscored their opponents 402-182.
“You see the impact it can have. You can steal and go first to third and after you’ve done that for a couple of weekends, teams get a scouting report,” Wallace said.
“They’re throwing over and running pick plays and then they’re leaving fastballs out over the plate, rushing a ground ball. That’s what’s fun.”
In Spartanburg’s first game against Potomac State in the district tournament, the Catamounts tried to keep base runners close, but the Pioneers still stole six bases in six attempts.
Reid Moman, the Pioneers’ right fielder, showed some of his speed during the district championship game with an inside-the-park home run.
“He lofted the ball over the center-fielder’s head and he came up lame and could only flip the ball in,” Wallace said. “We can run a little bit if it’s hit in the gap.”
Moman is fifth in the nation with a .443 batting average with 51 RBI. The sophomore dislocated an elbow early last season and never quite got healthy, but this season hit .500 in conference games.
“The more he played, the more confident he got,” Wallace said. “He hits left-handers and right-handers well. In our league, against good pitching, he hit .500. He’s just been a steady force all year.”
As a team, Spartanburg is hitting .314 with 83 doubles, 27 triples and 14 home runs.
And one thing’s for certain — the Pioneers won’t run out of pitching.
“In our league we play doubleheaders Saturday and Sunday, so you’ve always gotta have at least four quality starters,” Wallace said. “If you have a game during the week you need a couple more. A three-day tournament doesn’t faze us. I didn’t re-use a pitcher the entire (district tournament). A lot of guys don’t pitch as much in the spring as they’d like, but in the postseason we’ll have depth.”
Chris Washington is 7-2 with a 2.45 ERA in 55 innings, striking out 40 and walking only seven. Jimmy Lindberg (6-2) has the most innings, 67 1/3, with 49 strikeouts and 10 walks. The staff ERA is 3.02, with 330 strikeouts and 147 walks.
“We carry a lot of pitchers by design,” Wallace said. “We’ve made a conscious effort to not hesitate to put guys in or take guys out and do what we need to go. We have them ready when the postseason comes.”
Wallace hopes his team stays hot — and the wind stays away.
“I hope we keep playing as well out there as we have in the last month and a half,” he said. “If we do, it’ll be fun to watch.”