Indians’ big bats
Chipola crushes four home runs to advance to title game
After getting a little frustrated with hitting balls to the warning track in the big park during the Gulf District tournament, the Chipola College (Florida) sluggers are having a heyday in Grand Junction’s Suplizio Field.
The top-ranked Indians have bashed their way back into contention for the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series championship, hitting four home runs Thursday in a 12-7 victory over Wabash Valley College (Illinois) to stay alive.
Not only are the Indians (49-9, 4-1 JUCO) alive, they’re in the title game.
After San Jacinto College-North (Texas) eliminated Cowley College (Kansas) on Thursday night, the Indians moved into tonight’s championship game — at least it’s a title game for San Jacinto, which is undefeated in the tournament. Chipola will need to play Saturday night to win its second JUCO World Series title.
“We came here to win this thing,” Chipola coach Jeff Johnson said. “When we got the loss to San Jac, I just kept telling our guys let’s battle and battle and battle and get to the final day. That was our goal, to get to the final day and we’d have a chance at that point. We’re close to being there, so we’ll just see what happens. If we have to come out (tonight) and grind away and get to Saturday, that’s the goal.”
Chipola’s four home runs against Wabash Valley (50-15, 2-2), gave the Indians 17 for the tournament. Hearing that number had a couple of the Indians’ eyes lighting up.
“That’s just sticking to our approach, not getting too big,” said No. 8 hitter Trey Dawson, who hit a go-ahead home run in the eighth after Wabash Valley had tied the game 7-7.
“This park doesn’t play too big and we’ve got guys throughout the lineup with power to hit it out of any park in the country.”
Reynaldo Rivera, the Indians’ 6-foot-6 first baseman, hit a two-run opposite-field home run in the third inning, putting Chipola up 3-0 after a pair of singles and a sacrifice fly by Jose Caballero.
Jacob Silverstein doubled off the wall in the fourth to get another run home, but Wabash Valley scored four in the fifth on four straight hits off Riley Cabral, who was pitching in his third game of the series.
He had a one-hitter through four, but tired in the fifth and was lifted for Andrew Grogan. A throwing error gave Wabash one run, but Grogan retired three straight batters to get out of the inning in a 4-4 tie.
Grogan retired the side in order in the sixth and seventh innings.
“Riley had thrown 76 pitches in the last three games and before the game I told him, ‘Just get us four or five innings, that’s all we want out of you today,’ and he did,” Johnson said. “I was really glad to see him come back with some confidence and pitch the way he had in our conference and nonconference season.
“Grogan did an outstanding job. That one inning they got three (in the eighth on back-to-back home runs by Jarrod Watkins and Romero Harris) he lost it a little bit. He settled in and came back and saved us from having to go to Junior (Harding) again. That was huge for us.”
That three-run eighth inning tied the game again and had Johnson wishing the Indians hadn’t left Andrew Bechtold stranded after his leadoff double in the sixth.
“I was worried when they came back and tied it at 7-7 it might cost us not getting that extra run, but Trey hit that big home run and Max cushioned it with the grand slam, so it made it a little more comfortable in the dugout at the end,” Johnson said.
Ah, yes, that big home run by Dawson, who led off the bottom of the eighth with a shot deep into the left-field bleachers.
“I was the leadoff guy, just trying to get on base, not trying to get too big,” Dawson said. “He just left a fastball middle-in and I put a good swing on it.”
The Indians have done that all week — Caballero has five home runs from the No. 2 spot in the lineup, including a two-run home run to right field in the seventh that gave him 15 RBI, three off Greg Geren’s tournament record (Cleveland State, 1980). Caballero is one off the home run record of six, shared by Jeff Kipila (Brookdale, New Jersey, 1986) and Jerry Shepherd (Middle Georgia, 1990).
“He loves to be in the moment and we’re glad to have him in the moment today,” Johnson said of Caballero.
Rivera followed that home run with a single and was chased around the bases one out later when Brody Wofford tripled to left-center.
“I was trying to speed up so he didn’t pass by me,” Rivera said, “but I was feeling him behind me.”
After Dawson’s home run in the eighth gave Chipola an 8-7 lead, Silverstein and Caballero singled and Rivera was intentionally walked.
Max Guzman tore into a 3-2 pitch, drilling it out to the deepest part of the park.
“I had to pick up my big guy over here,” Guzman said with a grin.