Reviers top preseason NJCAA poll

The defending National Junior College Athletic Association baseball champions are back on top.

Iowa Western Community College is the No. 1-ranked team in the NJCAA preseason poll, which was released Thursday.

“To be No. 1 in the preseason is an honor,” Iowa Western coach Marc Rardin said. “It’s great, but the reality is we’re not number one.”

Central Arizona College is ranked second, Palm Beach State (Fla.) College is third, Jefferson (Mo.) College is fourth and Seminole State (Okla.) College is fifth. San Jacinto (Texas) College-North is sixth.

The Reivers (62-6) won their second national title in three years when they defeated San Jacinto (Texas) College-North 6-5 in the 2012 JUCO World Series championship game. Iowa Western defeated San Jacinto for the 2010 national title. The Reivers are the only Northern District team to win a national title.

Iowa Western’s 62 victories are a single-season school record.

The Reivers had 16 sophomores on the team, including World Series MVP Keaton Steele. All 16 signed with NCAA Division I programs.

Iowa Western has 11 sophomores on its roster this season, 10 returning from last season.

“You don’t try to (match the record season),” Rardin said. “I had enough of those talks with those guys. We’re trying to find our identity.”

Rardin pointed out the first year he took the Reivers to the World Series in 2005. The following year, they missed it.

“All the sophomores talked about was this team was not like the ‘05 team,” Rardin said. “I remembered that. From 2007 on, we’ve gone to the World Series. You learn to make your own identity. The sophomores can kill you as much as help you if you let them think or talk a certain way.

“I’m not worrying about 63-5. I told them when we got done with practice (Thursday), I love their effort and attitude. John Wente and I are great friends. (Wente’s Central Arizona Vaqueros) are probably one of the best teams out there. We’re getting credit, which is awesome. That is what reputation is. Hopefully by May, we click.”

This Iowa Western team will rely more on pitching and running than last year’s team that led the nation in hitting (.404 average).

“We’ve got more arms than we did last year,” Rardin said. “We could be better arms. We’re not even close to being offensive hitting-wise like last year. We can run. We’re athletic, but we won’t be hitting at the level we were last year (.404 with BBCOR bats).

“I’ve got more of a core (group of players) I will have to rely on. We’ll be able to pitch a little bit, run a little bit more. That’s what we’ve done in the past.”

The Reivers start the season Feb. 15 at Garden City (Kan.) Community College.

The next weekend, Iowa Western plays at Seminole State, Connors State (Okla.) College and Eastern Oklahoma State College.

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