JUCO Notebook: Home Runs return at Suplizio

Home run-happy at Suplizio Field

The big fly is back. At least for one day, anyway.

After three years with a dearth of home runs in the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series at home-run-friendly Suplizio Field, Day 1 of this year’s series delivered a power surge.

The first four games of the tournament produced 12 home runs. Five of them came in the second game, with Johnson County Community College (Kansas) hitting three home runs and Midland College (Texas) hitting two.

Putting that first-day total in perspective, 24 home runs were hit in the entire 19-game tournament last year. In 2012, 26 home runs were hit in the tourney, and 24 were hit in 2011.

That was a precipitous drop from the preceding three years, as 49 home runs were hit at JUCO in 2010, 62 in 2009 and 56 in 2008.

The switch to BBCOR bats is blamed for the dip in home runs, but it didn’t stop balls from flying out of the park Saturday.

Game 3 brought three home runs, all by Blinn College (Texas), with left fielder Stephen Stuart connecting on two of them. Stuart hit two home runs in 179 at-bats prior to JUCO.

Stuart, a left-handed hitter, hit both of his home runs to right field, and the first one was one of the best-hit balls of his career.

“I got a pretty good hold of that one,” he said with a smile. “I don’t drive many balls out of the yard, but off the bat I could tell those two were out.”

Last year didn’t carry over

After winning the outstanding pitcher award at last year’s JUCO World Series, sophomore Steve Naemark couldn’t duplicate the magic in the opener for Cochise College (Arizona).

Blinn got to the left-hander for six runs on eight hits in six innings in the Buccaneers’ 7-4 win.

Naemark, who relies on his breaking ball and mixing speeds, went 1-1 in Grand Junction one year ago, allowing only one earned run in 11 1/3 innings.

He said he battled Saturday and had no regrets.

“They hit some really good pitches, and it’s just the way the cookie crumbles, I guess,” Naemark said. “My stuff wasn’t there, but I feel like I was there mentally, and that allowed me to make some good pitches. Obviously, I made more mistakes than I’m used to, and that’s where the home runs came from.”

Tougher road, not impossible

If Columbia State Community College (Tennessee) coach Mike Corn wanted to prove to his players that losing in the first round isn’t the end of the championship dream, all he had to do was point to the team that beat the Chargers 6-5 in Game 1.

Iowa Western Community College won the national title two years ago after dropping Game 1 of the World Series. The Reivers won their next five games to win their second title in three years.

Corn said he told his team after the loss, “Winning is never final, losing is never fatal. We will convene in the hotel and get back and say, ‘Listen, we are still in this thing.’ “

Always balances things out

Iowa Western’s Dom Thompson-Williams was thrown out at home by Columbia State center fielder Ronnie Jebavy in the top of the eighth, preventing the Reivers from tying the game 5-5.

Thompson-Williams made amends in the top of the ninth when he singled home the tying run and set the stage for the winning run.

“Somehow, every time I seem to screw up, I always happen to come back with a good hit or good something,” Thompson-Williams said. “It fell on my shoulders, and I made the base hit.”

Down but never out

After teammates Quinn Carpenter and Alex Krupa spoke of the Reivers remaining confident they could come back after falling behind 5-0 through four innings, Thompson-Williams added his thoughts.

“I’ve never been on a team like this at all, and when I say that, I mean if we’re down by five runs, it’s not really pressure to us,” he said. “We always seem to get the bats going at the right time.”

This is why you’re a Reiver

It helps the Reivers keep their cool when coach Marc Rardin advises them the way he did Thompson-Williams in the ninth.

“I was talking to Dom, he was on deck … I said, ‘Breathe. Enjoy. That’s why you came to Iowa Western, because you know you’re going to end up here someday,’ ” Rardin said. “And he was in that spot. You just want him to enjoy it.”

Early arrival paying off

Come Monday, Midland will have spent a week in Grand Junction. Sophomore right-hander Brandon Courville said the extended stay has helped the team adjust to Colorado.

“We were used to the environment and the altitude,” Courville said. “We didn’t have trouble with the whole out-of-breath thing like Coach (David) Coleman had going up the stairs a little bit. But yeah, I think it helped us a lot. It helped us settle in, and we’ve been here and ready to play this whole time.”

Attendance

Saturday’s four games drew a combined 23,603 fans to Suplizio Field: 7,214 for Game 1; 5,603 for Game 2; 3,883 for Game 3, and 6,903 for Game 4.


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