Reivers return: Iowa Western back in GJ after a year away
Marc Rardin can laugh about it now — a little bit.
When the Iowa Western Community College baseball team failed to qualify for the 2013 Alpine Bank Junior College World Series, it stung. However, Rardin said it might have stung the program’s fans even more.
“It was a compliment, but it was frustrating all at the same time,” he said. “You would have sworn somebody died in my family. People were saying, ‘Marc, I’m so sorry.’ Hey, it was a good run, I’m not retiring, nobody died. It’s baseball. That was amazing, not something that happens every day, (to qualify) six in a row. Eight times in 12 years. This is only my 12th year as a head coach; it’s not like I’ve been coaching 20 years.”
At first, Rardin and his assistant coach, Rob Allison, weren’t sure what to do with themselves in late May.
“It makes you appreciate it, hungry,” Rardin said. “It makes you want to take an out-of-body evaluation and make sure we’re doing things the right way, the consistency, where we are again.”
The Reivers, ranked third in the nation, rattled off 51 victories this season and are back where they’re used to being in late May.
When Rardin took over the Iowa Western program in 2003, it was the middle of winter and the recruiting was done for that spring. Since he put his program in place, the results have been staggering.
“In 2004 we had my freshmen coming in, and every recruiting class, every kid who’s gone through my program both years — we don’t have anyone leaving early — all these kids have gotten the opportunity to go to the World Series,” he said. “That’s cool. We went in ‘05, then ‘07, ‘08, ‘09, ‘10, ‘11, ‘12 and now ‘14. Never has there been somebody since I’ve been recruiting landed on campus who hasn’t experienced it.”
And the Reivers have won two JUCO World Series titles, in 2010 and 2012. Both of those teams came in with more than 50 victories.
Rardin knows if the Reivers are to continue the every-other-year title streak, this team will have to do something those didn’t — win despite having no experience playing at Suplizio Field.
“Doing it in Council Bluffs where there are 100 people watching is a little different than in Grand Junction with 12,000 people,” he said, overestimating the crowds just a touch. “We’ll see. These guys haven’t been thrown into that atmosphere before.
“Nerves are a big thing. Our sophomores have never pitched in this environment. It’ll be fun, but kids sometimes act like if they don’t play right somebody’s going to shoot you. I tell them, ‘They’re here, but nobody wants to see you fall on your face. Don’t worry about that stuff. They aren’t handing out pistols coming into the game.’ ’‘
If the Reivers can relax — which, Rardin said, is easier said than done — he likes his chances to be in Grand Junction for awhile.
He’s bringing in a squad with a .348 team batting average, with freshman outfielder Dom Thompson-Williams boasting a .414 average. He’s one of three guys who have scored 53 runs this season on a team that averages 7.9 runs a game and allows only 2.8.
“We hit OK average-wise,” Rardin said. “We’re in the top 10 or 15, something like that.”
“Something like that” is No. 3 in the nation, and the top-hitting team in the tournament, a couple of points better than top-ranked Chattahoochee Valley Community College (Alabama).
Like many junior college teams, Rardin has multiple-use players. Case in point: Quinn Carpenter. The 6-foot-5, 205-pound sophomore outfielder hits .399 with a team-high 12 home runs and has 56 RBI. He’ll switch gloves and come in to pitch with an 8-0 record in 16 appearances and a miniscule 1.27 ERA. He’s struck out 71 and walked only 15 in 42 2/3 innings of work.
The pitching staff has done its job, with a 3.38 team ERA (opponents have a 7.88 ERA against the Reivers’ hitters) and nearly 400 more strikeouts (523) than walks (133).
“Pitching has been our mainstay,” he said. “They give us a chance. We’ve got some sophomore pitchers, guys in that upper tier level, either coming out of the pen or starters. We’ve got a couple of guys out of the pen who are freshmen who have played a good role.”
So the Reivers have hitting, pitching — and they play pretty good defense, too, with a .969 team fielding average, with 55 errors in 62 games.
They forgot about losing the first district championship game to Wabash Valley (Illinois) and came back to win the “if” game to set off the championship celebration.
“I always tell them to handle the highs and handle the lows and find yourself in the middle,” he said. “We talk to them about that all the time. Life’s gonna go on.”
The Reivers handled the highs and lows of playoff baseball, qualified for JUCO once again. And life went on.
Once the dogpile unpiled, the pictures were taken and the hugs were passed around, Rardin did something he loves as much as coaching.
He played catch with his sons.