JUCO Notes: Rodgers happy to help Apaches

When Cochise (Ariz.) College pitcher Zach Rodgers made his Alpine Bank Junior College World Series debut Thursday, it marked his first start since late April.

If not for the Apaches’ advancement to the World Series, Rodgers would have ended his sophomore season and time at Cochise as a spectator, and he needed his teammates to persevere through two elimination games before he got the ball Thursday.

Then, he pitched 6 1/3 solid innings that signify the competitiveness and toughness of a young man who said a month ago he “couldn’t bend, couldn’t put shoes on, couldn’t do anything, really,” because of sprained back and left hip contusion.

So, getting the opportunity to pitch and help the Apaches remain in title contention with no more than two days to go in the tourney “is huge for me,”  Rodgers said. “I’ve been healthy for about a week, week-and-a-half now, and I’ve been waiting for Coach to give me the ball. And he gave me the opportunity today.”

Apaches coach Todd Inglehart said Rodgers looked like he was 100 percent Thursday, which was in stark contrast to late April, early May.

Inglehart said Rodgers has a good, crisp fastball and a curve and changeup he can throw for strikes. But foremost, the coach said Rodgers is a competitor.

“He made two final starts during the regular season. He was not healthy, still won them, competed,” Inglehart said. “He sat a couple weeks, we tried to throw him in the playoffs, he lasted an inning. It wasn’t because of the results, it was because he couldn’t stand up.”

Inglehart said he’s glad his team advanced this far in the World Series for Rodgers’ sake.

“I knew there was no way he was going to pitch unless we got to this point in the season, and fortunately we did,” Inglehart said. “I knew if he was healthy, he’d throw pretty well. He threw really well.”

These BBCOR bats ain’t half bad

Most junior college baseball teams in recent years had to adjust to the lack of pop when the BBCOR bats reduced the coefficient of resistance in the aluminum bats at the college level.

For most teams, it means fewer home runs, and that has been evident at home-run-friendly Suplizio Field during the JUCO World Series.

Although most colleges might bemoan BBCOR bats, Cochise (Ariz.) College welcomes them. The Apaches actually gain some pop in the postseason because BBCOR is a step up from the wood bats they used all season in the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference.

It’s still an adjustment, though, for a team that doesn’t switch to aluminum until the district tournament.

“It was a little weird, but we got used to it, and it feels better now,” said Cochise first baseman Frank Salas, who hit a home run to right field in the first inning Thursday.

Salas had only one home run in 236 plate appearances prior to JUCO.

Salas said he remembers using aluminum bats five years ago, before BBCOR, and it’s different to swing the metal now and not get the results he used to see.

Still, the BBCOR has more pop than wood, and Salas said when he takes an aluminum bat to the plate now, his approach is, “I think that I am swinging a wood bat, and that helps.”

He’ll wait to wax poetic

Spartanburg (S.C.) Methodist College coach Tim Wallace said he had no words of consolation or season summation to impart to his players after Cochise eliminated the Pioneers from the final four teams at JUCO.

Instead, he said he’d wait until they got back to South Carolina and had a few days to let the World Series and their overall season sink in.

But he said the Pioneers had a great season, even though they fell shy of their national championship goal.

“It’s a great year. We won our region, we won our district, we won them both in convincing fashion,” Wallace said. “We came out here, played very well for three days.

“You just tell the freshmen, ‘Remember this, learn from it.’ Sophomores, you congratulate them for what they did for you and wish them well where they’re going.”

Lions Club honors 8 student-athletes

The Grand Junction Lions Club selected one boy and one girl from each Grand Valley high school for its first Grand Valley Student-Athlete Awards. Each recipient received a plaque and had $250 donated to a local not-for-profit organization in their name.

The awards were presented during a ceremony Thursday before the night game.

Whitney Jackson and Kyler Rose received the Grand Junction High School Joe Biggs Award and each donated money to Firefly Autism, a Denver-based company dedicated to helping families dealing with autism.

The 25th Frank Woodburn Academic and Athletic Excellence Award at Palisade High School went to Courtney Clark and Caden Woods. Woods donated to the Hilltop Life Adjustment Program, which benefits traumatic-brain-injury survivors. Clark donated to the Delaney Clements Foundation, a group dedicated to raising awareness for cancer in children.

For the Central High School Outstanding Senior Athletes Award, Jordan Eller and Josh Weller received the honors. Eller donated to Mesa View Elementary and Weller gave money to the Central High baseball program.

Fruita Monument students Samantha Parks and Vince Grasso received the Ms. and Mr. Wildcat Awards. Grasso donated to Mesa County Junior Football, and Parks donated to Hospice and Palliative Care of Western Colorado.

Program history

The JUCO Program Viewer, a collection of every program in the history of the tournament, has been a popular seller.

Entering Thursday’s games, enough CDs had been sold ($15 each) to fund three $500 scholarships, and get a good start on a fourth. The goal was to sell enough CDs to fund four scholarships, which will be awarded to players wanting to continue their education who don’t receive scholarships to four-year schools. There will be grade requirements, and players interested will need to write a short essay explaining what the scholarship would mean to them.

The plan is to add each year’s program and make it so fans can purchase them through the tournament website, jucogj.org. Fans can purchase the CD at the booth located under the stands near home plate.

Attendance

Attendance for Game 16, Thursday’s afternoon game between Spartanburg and Cochise, was 4,108. Game 17 between Central Alabama Community College and Palm Beach State (Fla.) College drew a nighttime crowd of 9,060, bringing the Thursday total to 13,168.

Through six days of tournament play, attendance is 101,792.


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