Getting to JUCO worth the wait for Gordon College
It took some time, but Gordon (Ga.) College baseball coach Travis McClanahan built a winner.
When he took over the program 10 years ago, the Highlanders didn’t know success.
In 2010, they were five outs away from going to the World Series and were close again in 2011.
This year, the Highlanders (36-23) finally won the district title to qualify for the World Series for the first time in the program’s history, but it was more unlikely than the past two years.
“We have a young team,” McClanahan said. “It was a learning process. We suffered a lot of injuries. It took a while to find our team identity. Once they found their role, we played better baseball.”
Gordon lost five scholarship players for the year to injuries between late fall and early in the spring season. Three of them were pitchers and were all injured within a 10-day stretch before the first spring practice. Two were from pre-existing conditions.
“There were some strange things,” McClanahan said. “Some years, you never have injuries, other years you have a slew of them.
“A couple were hurt in non-baseball related injuries before the season started.”
Team leader Chase Raffield was lost for the season when he tore a knee ligament chasing down a fly ball in practice seven games into the season. He hit .390 and had 14 home runs last year.
Many of the players struggled to adapt to new roles as a result of the injuries.
Gordon lost 14 of its first 25 games this season before the players adjusted to their roles.
“We’ve always had expectations,” McClanahan said. “We usually put those expectations out there. When all the injuries happened, we had to step back and forget about the big goal and start from ground zero. A lot of guys were struggling.
“We went back to let’s play baseball and have fun. We got over having to fill someone’s role and came together as a group. When you have a few guys left, you get really close.”
The Highlanders won 13 of 14 games going into postseason play and 19 of 23 going into the World Series.
Gordon was dealt another injury in the district championship game when shortstop Grant Massey pulled a hamstring.
McClanahan said it’s bothering Massey, but he’s working with the school’s athletic trainer to be able to play this week.
“We kind of laugh,” McClanahan said. “It’s another injury, we’ll try to figure something out. We think he’s going to play, but we’re not sure how well.
“One of the things the guys realize, you are a very valuable player no matter what. In a matter of seconds you can go in and the season could hinge on you making a play. The question is, are you prepared for it?
“They’re quickly growing up. One person’s injury is another person’s opportunity.”
Devin Bonin sets the table for the Highlanders’ offense in the leadoff spot. The freshman second baseman leads the team with nine home runs and has 34 RBI.
Aaron Mizell, Bobby Woodall and Drew Adams have driven home the majority of the runs in the 3-5 spots in the lineup.
Woodall hit .394 with 15 doubles, three home runs and 48 RBI through the regular season.
Adams has 35 RBI and Mizell 33.
McClanahan doesn’t have a standout ace on his staff, but says he has a bunch of solid pitchers.
Kenny Anderson (6-5, 2.45 ERA) leads the team in strikeouts (67) and innings pitched (73 1/3). He has signed with the University of Georgia.
Kevin Burgee (8-1, 5.02 ERA) and Andrew Fessler have logged more than 60 innings. Fessler has started, closed and pitched in long relief.
Jeb Dills (5-2, 3.99 ERA) has 45 strikeouts in 47 1/3 innings and has given the Highlanders a lift in several outings.
“We’ve been in office working trying to figure out how to go out there and not have kids change and play a different way,” McClanahan said.
“Our outlook on it is, there’s going to be more people there watching us play more games. We’re looking forward to seeing the talent around the country and playing in front of enthusiastic fans and the support Grand Junction gives.
“Most of our kids have not been in a plane or on the other side of the Mississippi River.”