Midland magic: Texas representative ready to make noise in first World Series
It’s no fluke that Midland (Texas) College made it to the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series. It was expected.
A deep and talented squad created Texas-sized expectations for the Chaparrals this spring.
“It’s something we talked about, it was an expectation level,” head coach David Coleman said.
But as a team that had never qualified for JUCO before, Coleman said the Chaps focused on not putting the cart before the horse.
“We talked more about making it to the regional tournament,” he said. “But we thought that we had a special team.”
Actually, Coleman said last year’s team was special, but it didn’t work out like they hoped.
“This group was disappointed about last year. We were one game short of the regional title and they remembered that,” he said.
As those freshmen became sophomores, Coleman said they came into the season with a resolve to make it farther that the previous year.
“We have lots of sophomores that were talented kids (last year) and we just couldn’t quite get it figured out,” he said.
The 2013 Chaparrals figured it out.
After an 8-2 victory over Grayson County College, thanks in part to a Chris Shaw grand slam, Midland College was Southwestern District champs and heading to Grand Junction.
Midland (47-13) lost back-to-back games only once this season and are ranked No. 5 heading into the JUCO World Series.
Coleman chuckles about what impact he made on this year’s team.
“Honestly, I didn’t do anything different. We did everything we always do. Honestly, the kids just bought into it this year,” he said.
“Coaches get too much credit for winning and too much blame for losing,” he said with another chuckle.
Coleman said the Chaparrals are a complete team that plays with a lot of confidence, positive energy and chemistry
Mixing the concoction of success and bringing things together is Jeremie Fagnan, who leads the team in hitting (.429), RBI, runs scored and doing the little things.
“He’s a hard-nosed player, he really respects the game and is a tireless worker and has a lot of pride,” Coleman said. “And he cares about his teammates.”
Coleman, who has coached for 22 years, seven at Midland, said Fagnan is one of the best players he’s ever coached.
Fagnan led the nation is runs with 77 and teammate Matt Reyes had 74 for the high-scoring Chaps. Fagnan and Blair Beck finished as the two of the nation’s top RBI guys with 71 and 70, respectively.
Fagnan, who is headed to Texas Christian next season, said the team concept is what has made this year’s team special.
“I truly believe the reason we’ve gotten so far this year is because of our team chemistry,” he said. “We just jell and we are all on the same page. We all want the same thing and that is to win.”
Coleman describes the team as hard workers more focused on team than individual stats.
“Just a scrappy bunch, they grind out at-bats, don’t try and do too much, they understand who they are as hitters and feed off each other,” he said.
The scrappy bunch scored in bunches, leading the nation with 533 runs, more than 70 runs better than the next team.
Fagnan said everyone plays a part in producing runs.
“We have a real balanced attack one through nine, and that makes for a lot less pressure on everyone,” he said.
One of the keys to Midland’s success is shortstop Joel Atkinson.
“There’s so much leadership on this team and Joel is the heartbeat guy,” Coleman said. “He’s the guy who calls timeout and goes to the mound, he’s the guy in the dugout who won’t let them get down or go flat.”
Coleman challenged his team to be great at the beginning of the season.
“We kind of put that expectation on them. We felt like their personalities were strong enough to handle it,” he said. “We wanted them to believe.”
Of course, the key was always about winning and building confidence through the season.
“The whole key was winning, and they won consistently. They really got hooked into winning. They are fun to watch,” he said.
Fagnan agreed: “That was our goal the whole season (to make it to JUCO) and we were really focused on it.”
Pitching-wise, Coleman said they have four guys who eat up innings and get the job done.
That was in full display in the district tournament.
Jason Zgardowski threw a complete game to get the Chaps into the championship, then Jeremy Filpek threw another complete game.
Thomas McIlraith is a hard-throwing right-hander who has 80 strikeouts in 67 innings.
Coleman said he won’t soon forget getting the final out and watching his players celebrate the school’s first trip to JUCO.
“It was surreal,” he said. “I’d rehearsed it in my mind and had no idea what my reaction would be. I just stood there and clapped as the players dog-piled on the field.”
And for the first time, Midland will have a chance to achieve Coleman’s one goal: “To win the last game.”