Iowa Western ready for 2010 title rematch with San Jacinto

Iowa Western Community College’s Sam Bumpers completes the first half of a double play Thursday night, forcing Gordon (Ga.) College’s Devin Bonin out at second during the Reivers’ 10-0 victory over the Highlanders during Game 17 of the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series at Suplizio Field. The Reivers will play in the championship game tonight.

Iowa Western’s Iseha Conklin throws to a cutoff man Thursday night during the Reivers’ 10-0 victory over Gordon (Ga.) College during Game 17 of the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series.

Say what you want about upstart programs and underdogs, but the teams that have made Grand Junction their home away from home more than any other since 2000 are in the ‘ship.

“In a tournament like this you see that occasionally. Sometimes you see first-timers coming up and winning it,” San Jacinto (Texas) College-North coach Tom Arrington said. “It’s who’s hot and makes that quality pitch, and it’s going to come down to maybe one or two plays. Marc (Rardin) does a great job over there, and you know our tradition; we strive every year to come here and perform well, let the crowd see some good baseball.”

In a rematch of not only the first game of this year’s Alpine Bank Junior College World Series but the 2010 title game, San Jacinto plays Iowa Western Community College at 7 tonight for the national championship at Suplizio Field.

Iowa Western won the 2010 title, the first for a Northern District team in tournament history, and San Jacinto, which has won five JUCO championships, more than any other school, won Game 1 this season.

And it’s a matchup of an Iowa Western team ranked No. 1 in the nation the last half of the season against a San Jacinto team that wasn’t favored to win its district tournament, yet swept the field and has just kept winning.

Once the Gators got to Grand Junction, they played to their strength, using pitching, defense — and team speed — to earn their 13th spot in the championship game, the fourth for Arrington, who is still looking for his first national title.

“Every team is different,” Arrington said. “I know I’ve been there several times. It’s a new group, and maybe it’s their year; I hope it’s our year. We’re going to try to play some really good baseball, and I thought we did that tonight. I’m just excited for them.”

San Jacinto (41-24) has been to Grand Junction nine times since 2000, Iowa Western (61-1) eight. It’s Rardin’s second title game — he’s 1-0.

“It never gets old,” he said after Thursday night’s win over Gordon that put the Reivers back into the title game.

It’s not lost on Rardin that his club has now been in the title game as many times as any other program from the Northern District — Triton (Ill.) College played for two titles.

“All I can worry about is ourselves, and I know we’re there,” Rardin said. “I’m so thrilled for my program and my school; three years in a row and top-three finishes in the World Series. It’s no fluke for a Northern team to be here. We’re one of them.”

Tonight’s game features the top hitter in the tournament, center fielder Reggie Wilson, who is hitting .526 and has scored seven runs this week, more than any other player.

San Jacinto enters the game hitting .329 as a team, Iowa Western .325 after a slow start. The Reivers who hit .414 entering the World Series, managed only five hits off San Jac’s Daniel Stumpf in the opener. Stumpf won’t be available tonight because he threw a complete game Friday to get the Gators to the title game.

Neither coach was sure who would start tonight. Thursday, Rardin was leaning toward Andy Roberts, who went six strong innings in a 4-1 win over Spartanburg Methodist (S.C.) in the Reivers’ second game of the tournament. Arrington said the coaching staff had some talking to do before making a decision, but “a lot of people want the ball.”

Should Iowa Western win tonight, it would become the first team since Southern Nevada in 2003 to lose the opening game of JUCO and win the championship.

“We got to stay here and keep playing,” Rardin said of the Reivers winning four straight after the Day 1 loss. “We grinded out a 4-1 win, we were a little bit better the next day and little bit better the day after that. The longer you’re here, you settle in and you love the environment, and you’re not intimidated by it.”

Should San Jac win, it would mean back-to-back titles for the Southern District (Navarro won it last year) and add to the lore of the school from Houston.

“We came in a little bit underdogs because of our record, but not at all because of desire and heart and commitment to the program,” Arrington said.

The players will no doubt be nervous, but both will sell out for the chance to dogpile on the field and hoist the national championship trophy.

“We know we have a chance to do something pretty special here, so we’re going to try to make the most of it now that we’ve made it to the championship,” Iowa Western sophomore third baseman Damek Tomscha said.

And it’s the same feeling in the other dugout.

“Well, we’re sure as heck going to leave it all on the field, I know that,” said Tomscha’s counterpart at third, sophomore Kirby Taylor. “We’re real excited, and this is what we hoped for all year.”


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