Easley does it!
Center fielder's big day lifts Yavapai past Cisco in marathon
Nate Easley was struggling to breathe at the bottom of a dogpile in center field Wednesday, but after the four-hour, seven-minute marathon at the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series ended, the outfielder for Yavapai College (Arizona) didn’t care.
Easley’s line drive to right field lifted the Roughriders to a 15-14 victory over Cisco College (Texas) in an elimination game at Suplizio Field.
“I was trying to get some air,” Easley said. “I had some big dudes jump on me. I was screaming for air but they couldn’t really hear me. It was a good feeling, though, to finally see that ball drop and get a win for our team.”
Easley’s hit punctuated a long back-and-forth offensive battle where pitchers mostly struggled.
Yavapai (47-20, 3-1 JUCO) and Cisco (48-15, 2-2) combined to throw 398 pitches and walk 15 batters.
It wasn’t until Roughriders ace JoJo Romero entered in the top of the ninth inning that things stabilized.
Throwing on three days’ rest after pitching in Yavapai’s opening-round game, Romero struck out one batter and didn’t allow a hit in one inning.
Pitching Romero in that situation might change the rotation moving forward, Yavapai coach Ryan Cougill said, but the Roughriders needed an opportunity to win.
“The decision was based on the 80 percent fastballs he threw last time out,” Cougill said. “And the fact that he does a tremendous job taking care of his body and the fact that I felt confident he was going to go out there and challenge some people.”
Romero, for his part, said he wanted the ball in that situation. Cisco scored in every inning except the seventh leading up to Romero’s appearance, and the sophomore said he enjoys facing top hitters.
“I was ready for that,” Romero said. “Once I got that adrenaline boost that carried me on through.
“I love seeing great hitters and being able to do what I do best.”
It was the Wranglers who struck first.
Cisco’s first run scored on a fielder’s choice during a double play, then Ryan Nelson singled to drive in the second run.
A three-run home run to deep left field by Ryan Hoogerwerf, a no-doubter that sailed beyond the wall, capped the initial outburst.
Easley responded in the bottom of the inning with a two-run home run, but Cisco extended its lead to 6-2 in the second inning on an RBI triple by Devlin Grandberg.
Yavapai rebounded in the bottom of the second when Ramsey Romano scored on a wild pitch and Easley poked an RBI single to center.
Cisco’s Wesley Phillips hit a sacrifice fly into foul territory in the third inning and Yavapai matched with an RBI single from Caden Goldby.
The Wranglers manufactured two runs in the top of the fourth on a fielder’s choice and a wild pitch before holding the Roughriders scoreless in the bottom of the inning to take a 9-5 lead. Phillips extended the lead with a two-run home run in the fifth, but Yavapai roared back the next time up.
A two-run double from Romano, a sacrifice fly from Easley, a single from Gavin Johns and a fielder’s choice allowed Yavapai to tally five runs and cut Cisco’s lead to 11-10.
Both teams scored two runs in the sixth, including an RBI double from Easley, but the Roughriders outscored the Wranglers 3-1 in the final three innings to pull away.
Cisco coach David White said he’s happy his team battled in Grand Junction.
“We couldn’t catch, couldn’t field, couldn’t throw,” White said. “Every time we made a mistake pitching, they hit it out.
“We scored 15 runs, we had 15 hits, it just wasn’t enough today.”
Grandberg, the Wranglers’ right fielder, joined the JUCO record book. With a .668 average in the tournament, Grandberg matches Kirby Puckett (Triton, 1982), Bill Losa (San Jacinto, 1987) and Bryant Beaver (Seminole State, 2004).
Yavapai advances to face Iowa Western at 3 p.m. today.
Easley finished 5 for 6 with six RBI and was a triple short of the cycle.