First impression

Rodgers' stellar first start of postseason leads Cochise past Spartanburg

Cochise (Ariz.) College’s Zach Rodgers shut down Spartanburg Methodist on Thursday, limiting the Pioneers to only two runs in 6 1/3 innings in the Apaches’ 10-3 victory in the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series.

Cochise’s Jason Parks, 7, slides into home to score as Spartanburg’s Domineke Albert waits for the throw Thursday in the seventh inning of the Apaches’ 10-3 victory.

Meet Zach Rodgers.

During the 2013 regular season, the Cochise (Ariz.) College pitcher garnered a 10-0 record and a 1.29 ERA. He recorded 73 strikeouts paired with only 24 walks in 91 innings.

He’s also, because of injuries, the Apaches’ No. 4 starter during the postseason.

The righty had all of his pitches working as he shut down Spartanburg (S.C.) Methodist in a 10-3 victory Thursday to help Cochise secure a spot among the final three teams in the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series.

“My big thing was just coming out and throwing strikes right off the bat,” Rodgers said. “I just wanted to relax and find a good rhythm, and when you’re able to do that you can usually have a good day if you’re throwing strikes.

“I felt a little bit like I was pitching backwards today. I was really starting out with my curveball, and that was working well for me. Then I’d come back with my fastball. Usually it’s my fastball that gets going first.”

Thursday marked Rodgers’ first postseason appearance. He was sidelined with a host of injuries, including back problems, a hip contusion and elbow soreness.

Rodgers finished with four strikeouts and one walk in 6 1/3 innings. He scattered 10 hits, but gave up only two runs, one earned.

Cochise coach Todd Inglehart credited his team’s pitching depth and flexibility as the reason the Apaches qualified for the JUCO World Series in the first place.

“That’s really how you get here,” Inglehart said. “You’re not going to get to this point with three or four starters that were there the entire year. Their stuff kind of wears down at the end of the year. They get tired. All of our guys are up over 100 innings, so their stuff isn’t as good as it was at the beginning of the year. It kind of helped (Rodgers) having a month off.”

As Rodgers got into his groove, Spartanburg’s season started to unravel. The Pioneers walked seven, hit four batters and made three errors to go along with some wild pitches and passed balls.

“We weren’t sharp, and when things start turning south here, they can turn south pretty quick,” Spartanburg coach Tim Wallace said. “It’s a combination of the environment, and it’s been a long week, and it’s hard for the guys to keep their focus when you see a mistake. No excuses. We had a great year, played very well, just didn’t play well the last two days.”

Cochise, meanwhile, stayed on point defensively. The Apaches committed no errors Thursday and have not committed one in four World Series games.

“Defensively we’ve been phenomenal, and I can’t say enough about that,” Inglehart said. “We have a good pitching staff, and it makes that staff really, really good when we play defense like we have been and don’t give up outs.

“You know, we actually struggled with double plays and some infield defense early in the year. It’s been something we’ve worked on. Our infield was sitting back on ground balls on what should be easy double-play balls. You’re always a little hesitant to work on that because then you might have guys overcharging on those opportunities. It’s just something where we’ve focused on moving laterally and have gotten comfortable with as the season has gone on.”

Tagg Duce continued to lead the Apaches offensively, notching his 10th RBI of the tourney. His three-RBI performance against the Pioneers places him one RBI behind Spartanburg left fielder Shell McCain for the tournament high.

Frank Salas went 2 for 4 and clubbed his first home run of JUCO.

“We’ve been taught to have a lot of plate discipline,” Salas said. “I got a fastball, a little in, and it looked exactly like what I was visualizing. I wanted something out in front of the zone. It felt good off the bat, and it just carried out.”

Spartanburg is eliminated from the tournament after losses on back-to-back days. Cochise advances to face Central Alabama in a tonight’s semifinal game.

“We have enough pitching for two more games, so I’m not worried about it,” Inglehart said of the possibility the Apaches will have to play two games to win the title.


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