Eyes wide shut
Defense lifts Cochise to win
With a hard grounder ripped directly at him, and a soggy Suplizio Field creating wicked bounces Sunday afternoon, Cochise College (Arizona) third baseman Austin Nelson dropped to his knees and attempted to body-block the ball.
Nelson wasn’t afraid to admit it after the Apaches’ 9-5 win over second-ranked Delgado Community College (Louisiana) in an elimination game at the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series: He had no idea where the ball was.
“My eyes might’ve been shut,” Nelson said with a laugh. “But I was just trying to keep it in front of me as much as I could. I don’t know if I saw it all the way in, to be completely honest.”
The ball skipped off the grass before taking a nasty hop at the edge of the dirt, sending the grounder ricocheting off Nelson’s left shoulder and high into the air.
It fell into the right hand of shortstop Louis Boyd, whose barehanded catch and throw might have led Cochise (38-28) to mark a 5-6-3 groundout in the scorebook.
If Boyd had his way, Nelson would certainly get credit.
“It all started with Nelly,” Boyd said. “It was clutch of him to body that up. Most guys would have just stepped aside and tried to olé the ball. But he stayed in front of it, and I was just praying the ball would come down quick enough to throw the guy out.”
The unified play on the left side of the infield doesn’t surprise Cochise coach Todd Inglehart, even as the Apaches battled through a one-hour, 13-minute rain delay in the top of the fifth inning.
“It’s one of the best left sides of an infield I’ve ever coached,” Inglehart said. “Austin, who is just so unselfish, it’s amazing. He was our shortstop for 70 games last year and was phenomenal for us. He voluntarily moved over to third, so Louis could play short. Louis was more of a shortstop type who would have had trouble moving to third. (Nelson) saw that from the very get-go, and he’s one of the most unselfish players I’ve ever coached.”
It was also Boyd and Nelson who sparked the Cochise offense. Boyd, whose .625 batting average is third in the tournament among players with two starts, was 3 for 4 with three runs and an RBI. Nelson was 2 for 4 with two doubles and four RBI.
Cochise first baseman Nick Borowski added a no-doubt home run, which he watched sail deep into the right field parking lot after walking out of the batter’s box.
Starting pitcher Xavier Altamirano pitched before and after the rain delay, finishing with three strikeouts and three walks over 6 2/3 innings.
Altamirano said he used a resistance band during the break to keep his arm warm, and there was no doubt in his mind he’d return.
Inglehart said he brought Altamirano back partly because of a shallow bullpen and also because of the sophomore’s mental toughness, Inglehart said.
“A very, very thin bullpen was No. 1,” Inglehart said. “But also because he’s X, and he’s done this so many times. I’ve mentioned this before, but what separates X and (Steve) Naemark (from other pitchers), from the neck up they’re so tough, and they’re such resilient kids. I think he might’ve jumped me if I didn’t let him go back in.
“Once you get to this point in the tournament, everybody gets thin. That helps us because we’re not as physical, not as offensive as some of these other teams, and we may have trouble scoring runs at times.”
The Apaches play Columbia State Community College (Tennessee) at noon today. Delgado (43-13) was eliminated from the tournament.
JUCO WORLD SERIES
Cochise 9, Delgado 5
up next: Cochise vs. Columbia State, noon today, Suplizio Field. Delgado eliminated.