Blinn’s Stuart shines in JUCO debut
Blinn's Stuart shines in his JUCO debut
Stephen Stuart had a pretty good game for Blinn College (Texas).
The freshman left-fielder hit two home runs and made a diving catch to end a potential rally in the seventh to lead Blinn to a 7-4 win over Cochise College (Arizona) at the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series on Saturday at Suplizio Field.
“This is my best game of my life,” he said, smiling. “It was the biggest game, here in Grand Junction, I was really pumped up to help my team out.”
Blinn took a 3-0 lead on an RBI triple by Nolan Brown in the first and a home run by James Duval in the second. It was Duval’s first home run of the season.
The game started as a matchup between two of the best pitchers in the tournament.
The Apaches sent lefty Steve Naemark, who was the outstanding pitcher in last year’s tournament, and the Buccaneers had Robbie Dickey on the mound. Dickey is considered one of the top prospects in all of junior college baseball this year.
Both had choppy starts.
Dickey was in control early, setting down nine in a row over the first three innings, but the big right-hander, who hit 93 mph with his fastball, struggled with his control later.
Cochise scored three in the fourth, with the big hit coming from Jake Luna, a two-run single with the bases loaded.
In the fifth, Stuart crushed a pitch off Naemark deep over the right-field fence for a solo shot to put Blinn up 6-3.
Cochise head coach Todd Inglehart said Naemark battled, but it wasn’t his day.
“Steve didn’t have very good stuff, but they had a lot to do with it,” he said. “They had some pretty physical swings through the baseball and he didn’t have command of the fastball today.”
Inglehart said the first Stuart home run was a huge momentum shift after Cochise scored its three runs in the fourth.
“We were back in the baseball game and then this is where we give them credit,” he said. “You make one pitch and the guy hits it about 420 feet, It takes the momentum completely away.”
Naemark gave up eight hits over six innings with two strikeouts and one walk.
Dickey got into deep trouble in the sixth when he walked the bases loaded.
Blinn coach Harvey McIntyre said he had no choice but to pull his ace with one out in the inning.
“I felt like we needed momentum and strikes,” McIntyre said.
He called on Seth Ballew to get the Buccaneers out of the jam. The left-hander did just that, getting a strikeout and a flyout to left.
“He’s done a good job in the bullpen for us all year,” McIntyre said. “He’s a competitive kid, I feel great about him on the mound.”
Ballew said he’s accustomed to the pressure of relief pitching but it was a little more intense than normal.
“It’s the World Series so there was some pressure there,” he said with a grin. “But once I settled in I was feeling fine. I was locked in and I don’t let too many things get to me out there.”
He pitched the final 3 2/3 innings to get the save. Dickey got the win but walked six and threw two wild pitches. He did strike out nine and ended with 115 pitches in only 5 1/3 innings.
“It’s never fun to come out of the game with the bases loaded,” he said. “I’ve had my bright times and I’ve had my low times. It’s good that we got the win but I wish I could have done a little better today.”
Dickey was in position for the win thanks to Stuart, who McIntyre said struggled against left-handers early in the year.
“He’s really come on strong. I didn’t play him against lefties early on,” McIntyre said. “I just decided if he’s going to play at the next level he’s going to have to figure it out, and he really has.”
Cochise finds itself in familiar territory at JUCO. Last year, the Apaches lost their first game but came back to finish third in the tournament.
“You just need to get that first W and that’s what we did last year,” he said. “We had a really tough loss and found a way to win the second game. But it will be tough because that other team is trying to get one, too.”