BALANCING ACT: 2007 champion Chipola returns to JUCO
Jeff Johnson isn’t as concerned with entering the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series as the No. 1 team in the nation as he is about making sure his pitchers stick to their routines.
Having 2 1/2 weeks off can mess up bullpen schedules as well as make hitters rusty.
“It’s our fourth time out there and you take things from the past that you were successful with and weren’t,” the Chipola College (Florida) coach said. “We gave them four days off to start with to give them a chance to get their legs, arms, bodies back up underneath them.”
Then it was a series of intersquad games so hitters faced live pitching, and vice versa.
“The big concern is your timing of your hitters and your game management of not being out there, so we try to simulate that in practice,” he said.
Florida teams are used to the long layoff, and Chipola also had a long break between the regular season and the start of the Gulf District tournament, so the Indians should be well-rested, even though the players were getting antsy to get to Grand Junction.
Chipola won the 2007 JUCO World Series championship, and Johnson is hoping the Indians can do the same this season. Their depth in all phases of the game should help.
On the mound, it starts with Bowden Francis, who’s 12-2 with a 1.87 ERA.
“He’s been our workhorse all year. He signed with Florida State and has been good most of the year,” Johnson said. “He’s carried us and Riley Cabral (11-0, 2.49 ERA), Ryan Shauger had a big part of that as well. When those other two guys were out (Evan Steele and Junior Harding) they set the stage and allowed us to do what we did until we got them back.”
Steele, a 6-foot-5 sophomore lefty who transferred from Vanderbilt, and Harding, a redshirt sophomore right-hander, had tender arms toward the end of the nonconference schedule and were shut down until the tail end of the conference season.
“It made us create some depth,” Johnson said. “Robbie Knox, Andrew Grogan, those guys pitched well for us down the line. When those guys went down, their roles changed from being middle relief guys to late guys, much more of a role, more appearances. It created some depth you need when you get to these state tournaments and national tournaments. You need that depth on your staff.”
Steele is an early round draft prospect, with a 3-0 record and 2.05 ERA. He’s only pitched 26 1/3 innings, but has 41 strikeouts and only seven walks.
With his pitching staff intact, Johnson feels good about the Indians, who hit .357 as a team with 69 home runs in the heavy air of Florida.
“The offense has been our strength most of the year. We’ve swung the bats well, but a pitcher can put you in a situation where that’s not the point,” he said. “A good arm ... you’ve got to rely on your pitching and defense. We’ve pitched it well down the stretch and played pretty good defense for the most part.”
Reynaldo Rivera and Andrew Bechtold are the big hitters, both hitting over .400 with double-figure home runs. Rivera, a sophomore first baseman from Puerto Rico, leads the Indians (45-8) at .447 with 15 home runs and 63 RBI. Bechtold, a sophomore third baseman who transferred from the University of Maryland, isn’t far behind at .421 with 11 home runs and 60 RBI.
“This is probably as good an offensive team as we’ve had, throughout the lineup,” said Johnson, in his 20th season at Chipola. “Different kids bring different things to the table. Bechtold and Rivera get the publicity and have the numbers in the middle of the lineup.
“We have a player of the game after every game and it always seems to be a different guy about every game. Someone gets a big hit or pitched (well) or got the outs we needed. It’s a well-rounded team. I’m proud of the guys and the way they’ve played; they play well together, there’s no selfishness. Each person understands their role so far.”
Jacob Silverstein, hitting .383, leads Chipola in two-out RBI, Johnson said, and Edmond Americaan (.361) runs down balls in the outfield, giving them speed in the middle. Bechtold and Jose Caballero each have 21 stolen bases, and Americaan, from Curacao, has 12.
Trey Dawson is a steady shortstop, pairing with leadoff man Caballero in the middle infield.
And about that No. 1 ranking?
“We haven’t even brought it up all year,” Johnson said. “We went out in 2007 and won the national championship and went out again in ‘08 and had a team that was much more talented than the team in ‘07 and went 1-2. (The ranking) doesn’t matter. It’ll energize the teams you’re playing against and make them try to play better against you.
“The best we can do is go out and play to the best of our abilities and hopefully play the best we can and be determined enough to win each game. If you win each pitch, each inning, each game, then you go on to the next game and see how far you can go.”
The Indians, like the nine other teams, want to go all the way.
“Guys worry about being ranked No. 1 and I tell them there’s only one ranking they give you a trophy for,” Johnson said, “and that’s that last pitch in Grand Junction.”