Neosho prevails in pitching battle
O'Brien's eighth-inning home run the difference
One pitch, one swing.
In the end, that’s what made the difference Sunday night in Neosho County (Kan.) Community College’s 2-1 victory over Cochise (Ariz.) College in Game 7 of the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series.
Jake O’Brien’s solo home run with two out in the bottom of the eighth broke the 1-1 tie.
“I was sitting changeup because he was throwing me changeups all day, and he just left it up over the middle,” O’Brien said. “I thought I got all of it, but I lost it in the dark. It’s kind of hard to find it when it gets over the lights.”
All of those pitches before that one, though, made for a magnificent ballgame.
Neosho’s Chance Sinclair and Cochise’s Xavier Altamirano each threw 111 pitches in complete-game performances. Altamirano just left one up a little too much.
“It’s very tough, especially being in the World Series,” Altamirano said. “A mistake, I guess, and they took advantage of it. It’s baseball.”
He struck out eight, allowed eight hits, and 77 of his pitches were strikes.
“A fastball,” he said of the pitch O’Brien hit out. “I thought it was spot-on. It was a good swing, I guess. I thought it was a popup when it came off the bat.”
On the other side, Sinclair threw 69 strikes, fanned five and allowed only four hits.
“I was trying to locate my fastball away off the plate where he may call it a strike,” Sinclair said. “That seemed to be working real well, and just throw my off-speed pitches for strikes before that to set them up a little bit.”
And after O’Brien’s home run, he was making sure not to hyperventilate.
“I had a lot of adrenaline,” he said. “I didn’t want to overthrow. I tried to calm myself down the best I could and do what’s gotten me this far in this game.”
He took some deep breaths, especially when Frank Salas singled to lead off the ninth.
“I tried to calm myself down, throw strikes, keep the ball low and let my defense work,” he said.
Cochise (49-18, 0-1 JUCO) scored first, with leadoff man Nate Hale drawing a walk, moving to second on a sacrifice bunt and scoring on a two-out single to left by Salas.
“It’s like our coach (Todd Inglehart) said, it’s down to who takes advantage of opportunities,” Hale said. “We had a couple of opportunities we didn’t take advantage of. In a tournament, you have to do that.”
Colby Smith walked with one out in the bottom of the sixth for Neosho (36-25) and scored on O’Brien’s double to left-center to tie it.
There it stood, with the pitchers staying in command and getting some help from their respective defenses.
In the bottom of the seventh, Neosho’s Craig Johnson lined a base hit off the wall, but he was thrown out trying to stretch it into a double by Cochise left fielder Esteban Bastidas.
That came right after Neosho second baseman Justin Warne made the defensive play of the game in the only inning that gave Sinclair trouble.
With the bases loaded and one out, Sinclair struck out Austin Nelson. He then got Zach Nance to pop up down the first-base line in foul territory.
Warne gave chase, running into the right-field bullpen, making the catch before tripping on the mound, but hanging onto the ball.
“That’s the kind of player he is,” Sinclair said. “Justin’s always made big plays for us when we needed him to. He’s going to put his body on the line, like you saw, almost running into the wall there. He just makes big-time plays.”
Were it not for a broken hand that sidelined Matt Milner out the past two months, Warne wouldn’t have been at second.
“Heck of a play,” Neosho coach Steve Murry said. “That was beautiful. That’s the way he plays.
“Here’s the weird thing: He’s our other shortstop. At the beginning of the year we were alternating between left and short when the Milner kid was playing second. As soon as we made that transformation when Matt went out, that kid’s made those kinds of plays nonstop. He’s found a home.”