A birthday present
Trojans' Reese wins JUCO MVP on birthday
Darius Reese never imagined he would play the starring role on the big stage.
He did, however, leading Central Alabama Community College to the 2013 National Junior College Athletics Association national baseball title on his 20th birthday. The Trojans defeated Palm Beach State (Fla.) College 7-3 in the final Saturday night at Suplizio Field.
Reese was selected the Preston Walker Most Valuable Player of the 2013 Alpine Bank Junior College World Series. The trophy is named after the former Grand Junction Daily Sentinel publisher.
“I never thought it would happen,” Reese said. “I never thought I’d be a on a team that would make it to the national championship.”
The sophomore center fielder was 3 for 5 with one RBI and one run scored in the championship game. He hit .552 in the tournament with 16 hits, 12 runs scored, four RBI and five stolen bases.
“Darius is a guy you put atop the lineup and everybody feeds off him,” Central Alabama coach Wynn Fletcher said. “The confidence level goes through the roof. They know he has a chance to score. He’s been an infectious player all year. I’m glad we had him.”
Reese, who played football and baseball in high school, chose to stay in his hometown of Alexander City, Ala., and play baseball for the Trojans.
“I thought about it and talked with my parents,” Reese said. “They told me I was a better baseball player than a football player. I sat down and thought about it a couple days. I called Coach Fletcher and gave him my choice.”
Reese, who is 5-foot-5 by his own admission, realized he was too small for college football.
His freshman year, last season, was tough.
“I played behind a sophomore last year and didn’t play much,” Reese said. “Coach Fletcher told me this year would probably be my year and to take notes from the guy in front of me and learn when my time comes.”
Fletcher said Reese needed some work before he was ready to play on a regular basis.
“He was raw coming out of high school,” Fletcher said. “He didn’t play a lot last year because we had a sophomore center fielder, and it was tough on him. He had to battle through some things as far as playing time, keeping his head up and being a good teammate.
“I told him after the season, he had some things to work on. If he wanted to come back, he had to make some changes. He called me at home one night and said, ‘Coach Fletcher, I’m behind you 100 percent.’ He’s been the best teammate and the best kid I could’ve had. It goes to show you good things happen to good people. He was down for a while.”
One of the things Reese had to learn was batting leadoff.
“It was a big jump from last year, because when I did play I was in the nine hole,” Reese said. “I had to learn my role and what I can do for my team.
“I was going to stick with the program (after last year). I was never going to leave Central Alabama. I was going to stay there. I just had to figure out what I had to do to be on the field.”
Reese batted leadoff all season, hitting .374 with a team high 61 hits and 24 stolen bases entering the JUCO World Series. He had 10 doubles, three home runs and 23 RBI before JUCO.
Reese hasn’t signed a scholarship offer anywhere, but he is considering Division II West Alabama.
Other awards handed out at the conclusion of the World Series included:
■ The Big Stick Award as the tournament’s leading hitter went to Central Alabama catcher Blaine Miller, who hit .556.
■ Cochise (Ariz.) College pitcher Steven Naemark received the outstanding pitcher award.
■ Cochise teammate Tagg Duce received the best defensive player award.
■ Neosho County (Kan.) Community College coach Steve Murry received the sportsmanship award.