Smeltzer's 20 Ks carry San Jac into championship game
After an up-and-down first outing at the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series, San Jacinto College-North (Texas) pitcher Devin Smeltzer texted his roommates Friday morning, telling them he was going to be patient and work to force groundouts.
So much for that.
The left-hander struck out 20 batters, one shy of a 57-year-old tournament record, to lift the Gators to an 8-1 win over Chattahoochee Valley Community College (Alabama) and secure San Jac’s 14th appearance in the championship game.
First pitch is scheduled for 7 tonight at Suplizio Field.
Smeltzer racked up 140 pitches and walked only one batter in his near-record performance.
“Around the fourth or fifth inning I knew I had a lot because I struck out the side a couple times,” Smeltzer said. “My approach is always get ahead early, try to get ground balls and take the strikeouts when I can get them. I got ahead a lot today and that’s what happened.”
Paris Junior College (Texas) pitchers Len Bell (1959) and Floyd Weaver (1961) have the JUCO record with 21 strikeouts.
Smeltzer struck out his final two batters to start the ninth inning, but a long fly ball caught at the warning track ended the game.
San Jacinto coach Tom Arrington, who started coaching the Gators in 2001, said it’s the best pitching performance he’s seen at the JUCO World Series.
“He was phenomenal,” Arrington said. “It’s hard to place words on that and I’ve been out here to Grand Junction 11 or 12 years and it’s certainly the best I’ve seen in the time that I’ve been here.”
Arrington said he was apprehensive about leaving Smeltzer in as his pitch count climbed, but it was hard to pull him during a potentially historic performance.
“Throughout the course of the year — and Devin will tell you this — even after his Game 1 here, Devin will say ‘one more, one more,’ when I come to get him,” Arrington said.
“And I give him a hug and tell him that’s it and that we’re going to the pen. He’ll grunt — only showing that he’s very strong-willed, wanting to compete and wanting to keep going — but this is the first time I said ‘OK, this is your ball. You finish it.’ ‘’
Smeltzer closed out the game, allowing only two hits and hitting one batter.
Chattahoochee Valley coach Adam Thomas said Smeltzer was unstoppable.
“Smeltzer is the guy,” Thomas said. “I mean, that guy is a dude. How many did he strike out? Twenty? That’s it? Because it felt like 48.”
The Pirates finished third at JUCO, their best finish in three consecutive trips.
For the first time in the tournament, the Gators led after the second inning.
Arrington said the early run support empowered Smeltzer even more.
A couple of scoring spurts gave the Gators (52-11, 4-1 JUCO) an early lead over the Pirates (52-12, 3-2).
Caden Williams opened scoring for San Jac in the bottom of the second inning, poking an RBI single through the left side. Three batters later, Nick Shumpert’s two-run single put the Gators up 3-0.
San Jac extended its lead to 4-0 in the third inning on a fielder’s choice.
Chatt Valley scored its only run during that lull with Jaylen Smith’s RBI single touching down in left field.
From there it was all San Jac with a four-run sixth.
Williams led off the frame with a double and scored on Baine Schoenvogel’s first-pitch single up the middle.
Schoenvogel was caught stealing, but Tanner Schuetz singled and Donivan Lopez reached safely on a bunt to put two runners on.
Shumpert singled to score Schuetz, then Shumpert and Lopez executed a double steal to put two runners in scoring position.
Lopez crossed the plate on a sacrifice fly and Shumpert came home on a throwing error.
San Jacinto most recently made the championship game in 2012, losing to Iowa Western Community College. This is the fifth JUCO championship game Arrington has coached, losing in his four previous trips.
Arrington said he’s gained experience through his many trips to Grand Junction, but said he won’t do much differently with this team.
“I’ve learned patience and to calm myself at certain times,” Arrington said. “I still coach when I coach. I still react and we make the changes that we make, but the players are what make this team.
“(Yavapai) is well-coached, lots of talent. They’ve had a day off to rest. They’ve fought through adversity to get here through the losers’ bracket. We won’t underestimate them. We’re going to go after them with everything we have.”