JUCO Notebook, June 3, 2016

Talking about death of former player brings out emotions in San Jacinto coach

Tom Arrington had to pause for a moment when he spoke of one of his former players, Dalton John Viner, on Friday.

“It’s really difficult,” the longtime San Jacinto College-North (Texas) baseball coach said of Viner, who died this past month. “It’s very tough to talk about. He was very, very gifted.”

Viner, a pitcher who came to the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series with the Gators in 2015, died on May 20. His funeral was May 28, the same day this year’s tournament started.

Arrington spoke of the close relationship he and Viner had, raving about how great a teammate, roommate, player and student he was.

A 6-foot-4, 225-pound pitcher with a fastball that topped out at 96 mph, Viner had the potential to play professionally, Arrington said.

Viner’s death, however, isn’t the only off-field emotional hurdle the Gators and the school’s athletic department has had to overcome. One of the team’s athletic trainers, Arrington said, lost a family member during flooding in the Houston area close to one month ago.

“There’s a lot of times when you’re part of a team, you go through difficult times,” Arrington said. “It’s situations where things are hard and people are grieving. So the goal there is to get players through it and ... let them know how special they are.”

CHANGE FOR THE BETTER

Watching Chattahoochee Valley designated hitter Frank Wager in the batter’s box, it almost looks like he’s not ready to hit.

As his monster home run on Wednesday showed, the lefty is ready to swing the bat. Coming into Friday night’s game, he had seven hits and two home runs.

After struggling for much of the season, he found his groove and swing at the same time thanks to a change in his approach late in the season.

“He kinda holds the bat funny now,” Pirates’ hitting coach Dash O’Neill said.

That’s an understatement. Wager holds his hands very low, actually close to his waist.

“He had a traditional stance and he swung and missed a lot,” O’Neill said, “So about a month ago we went down to the cage and I said we’re going to do something crazy and we’re going to do something a little different.”

The move “kept his barrel up instead of collapsing” O’Neill explained. “I don’t know if that’s the reason he’s hitting it hard or just the change in his thought process, but whatever it was he’s really squaring balls up now.”

Attendance

Friday night’s semifinal game drew a crowd of 9,391, bringing the tournament total through 18 games to 108,668 fans.


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