Balanced lineup lifts San Jac into JUCO championship game
This might be the year coach Tom Arrington and San Jacinto College-North (Texas) get over the hump at the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series.
The Gators will battle for a sixth JUCO championship, potentially their first under Arrington, after dispatching Cowley College (Kansas) 14-3 in five innings on Thursday night.
It will be Arrington’s second straight title game appearance and sixth overall. The coach said he’s not concerned with individual accolades and is focused on getting the Gators, with a complete lineup and deep pitching staff, their first title since 1990.
First pitch for the San Jacinto-Chipola matchup is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. A Gators win means a championship; an Indians victory would create a winner-take-all game Saturday.
“I think this club is an exceptional club, obviously,” Arrington said. “It’s hard for me to compare the years. You know, 2002, when I had some guys that I cared about and ‘09 and ‘15 and last year.
“A lot of quality players have passed through San Jac. In 17 years I believe we’ve got 15 big leaguers and put out almost 200 professional baseball players and I’d like to say that maybe 95 percent of our guys move on to universities. Those are the numbers that I’m very proud of.
“I want to win (today). I want a championship, certainly, and I want it more for the players than individual satisfaction. This is a team that can do it. They’re eager to get there. They’ve played very calm throughout the course of the tournament and I think they’re ready for (today).”
The Gators (48-16, 5-0 JUCO) rode an early power surge past the Tigers (45-18, 2-2 JUCO), clubbing three home runs in the first three innings to open a 7-2 lead.
The first three runs, though, came on a wild, error-filled play. Nick Perez launched a sacrifice fly with the bases loaded, but a throwing error from the right fielder, then a wild toss to third from the catcher that squirted into the dugout, cleared the bases.
After MacGregor Hines struck out two and coaxed a groundout from Cowley in the bottom of the first, San Jacinto added to its lead on Sergio Macias’ two-run home run into the parking lot. After a pitching change, Tristan Metten crushed the first pitch he saw over the fence in left field to put the Gators up 6-0.
Cowley got a run back in the bottom of the second on a fielder’s choice and added another on a passed ball, but Perez responded in the top of the third with a towering solo home run to right field.
The Tigers manufactured one more run on a fielder’s choice before the Gators scored seven unanswered runs to end the game early.
San Jac’s production came largely from its first five hitters in the lineup — Metten, Michael Smith, Luke Watson, Aaron Bond and Perez — plus Macias, the No. 9 hitter.
Arrington said different players in different parts of the lineup have made an impact at distinct points in the tournament, pointing to Ryan Johnson’s three doubles Wednesday night as the No. 8 hitter as an example.
“I think the success of our balanced lineup attack is key,” Arrington said. “Ryan Johnson was in the eight hole last night and hit the ball extremely well. I know Sergio is in the nine hole and he’s been hitting the ball well as well. Then we have a guy like Metten at the top who is our highest on-base percentage guy.
“The balanced attack does not leave a pitcher enough time to rest. It’s nice to have a few hitters to rest on, whether that’s the 7, 8, 9 or somewhere in the lineup where you can take a break. I don’t believe our lineup is that type of lineup.”
As the offensive surge went down, Hines pitched a shortened complete game, scattering five hits and striking out three with only two walks.
“(Cowley) came out swinging and they wanted to barrel up some balls right away and (Hines’) stuff was on early,” Arrington said. “He’s got a wipe-out slider and he goes to it. That breaking ball is a plus pitch and he’s got great hand speed, movement and his fastball isn’t overpowering, but it’s got a great sink — it’ll get in on the hands. You mix in a change-up and he was throwing everything tonight.”