Headed home: State College of Florida, Pitt (N.C) enjoy experience at JUCO
State College of Florida coach Tim Hill has made it to the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series 12 times in his career, setting the bar pretty high in the process.
Between 1999-2002, Hill’s teams at what was then Manatee Community College, had three top-three finishes at the tournament, and coming into this year’s contest, his Manatees were ranked third in the nation.
On Sunday, that tradition was set aside when Hill’s team lost the day’s opening game to become the tournament’s first team eliminated.
“Most of the time we’re going to finish third or second out here,” Hill said. “That’s what we’ve done in the past, that’s our history. To go home in two and not represent Florida in a way it should be represented is tough to take.”
The loss was tough for a team with high expectations. Throughout the tournament, the Manatees’ offense struggled early, never scoring a run before the fourth inning. In addition, the team’s starting pitchers struggled. The result was a team that trailed 7-0 on Saturday and 10-0 on Sunday before it could even put one run on the board.
“We felt we had a very, very good club but we didn’t show it out here,” Hill said. “Our pitching was the strength of our club and our starting pitchers had a rough go of it both games. Our relief pitchers did a good job, but when you give up 10 runs before we score in the first three or four innings, it’s tough.”
The team still had its positive moments, including a comeback in Sunday’s game, although the Manatees were unable to get the tying run across in the bottom of the ninth.
The other team eliminated Sunday was Pitt (N.C.) Community College, which was making its JUCO debut.
“It’s been a great experience,” said Pitt catcher Nick Abrahamson, who will be going to Virginia Commonwealth University next year. “I’d like to come out a bit more successful, but they treated us great here. It was awesome playing in front of thousands of fans.”
Although his team’s time in Grand Junction was limited, the two games were among the notable.
Saturday night, the Bulldogs played Southern Nevada and the talk of the tournament, Bryce Harper, in what has been the tournament’s largest crowd so far. In dealing with both the crowds and Harper, he said the team just focused on playing its game.
“To be honest, he’s one man,” Abrahamson said, about playing against Harper.
“(We) heard about him, just didn’t really make that an issue, didn’t really think about that. … I think we did a good job pitching against him. I don’t think he really hit anything hard yesterday, so I don’t think it was really an issue.”
Sunday, his team jumped to an early lead against Temple (Texas) College, but faltered in the later innings. Regardless, the catcher was proud of the team’s effort.
“My team went down fighting,” Abrahamson said. “They didn’t give up, so I’m proud of all my teammates. It’s been a good two years with them.”
Although both teams may be leaving earlier than planned, there’s at least one thing they left with — the experience.
“Everything that goes on outside of baseball is always a great feeing for the kids that they can take with them the rest of their lives,” Hill said.