Perfect mix: Yavapai’s pitching supplements hitting for return to JUCO
Last year, it was the big-time power bats that brought Yavapai College (Arizona) to the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series.
This year, pitching kept the Roughriders afloat early in the season and supplemented what Yavapai coach Ryan Cougill called a “dynamic” lineup down the stretch.
JoJo Romero is a powerful, 6-foot left-hander whose fastball can reach 95 mph. Romero was a top-tier baseball and soccer recruit coming out of Oxnard, California. He transferred to Yavapai from the University of Nevada, where he struck out 41 batters in 37 1/3 innings with a 3.62 ERA, working almost exclusively in relief.
The Roughriders have an ace in Romero, who threw 98 2/3 innings, struck out 107 batters and amassed an 8-5 record with a 3.74 ERA. He’s projected to go on the second day of the 2016 MLB Entry Draft and is committed to the University of Arizona.
“JoJo’s more of a power pitcher, but he’s a real cerebral guy, too,” Cougill said. “He can diagnose an at-bat well and has an above-average breaking ball and change-up.”
The Roughriders’ second pitcher is also a left-hander, but offers a very different look. Freshman HAYDEN Durkiewicz is a 6-footer from Chandler, Arizona, who throws a fastball in the mid-80s with solid off-speed pitches.
“He just pounds the zone,” Cougill said. “He’s a very good pitcher who is a change of pace. Not only velocity, but stuff-wise, he’s different from JoJo. They’re the two guys we’re going to lean on while we’re out there.”
Chase Beal, a sophomore right-hander, and Avery Weems, a freshman left-hander, have also made starts. Freshman closer Andrew Gross has thrown 61 2/3 innings in relief this season.
Cougill highlighted the depth of his pitching staff, something that gave the Yavapai hitters time to adjust this season.
The Roughriders amassed a 29-3 record at home during the regular season, but were 10-13 in regular-season road games.
Cougill said the hitting has come around later in the season, supplementing the speed already present in the lineup.
Yavapai has six players who have stolen 10 or more bases this season, and sophomore Nate Easley’s 27 leads the team. He’s only been caught six times.
A pair of freshmen, Dylan Enwiller and Christian Maggi, have 20 each and sophomore Nikko Delgado has 13.
Easley, a Washington State recruit and potential selection in the upcoming MLB Draft, is hitting .400 this season with a team-high 94 hits as well as nine home runs and 54 RBI.
Sophomore first baseman Brock Ephan, a 6-4, 270-pound slugger who has garnered interest from professional scouts, leads the Roughriders with 19 home runs and 79 RBI.
Cougill said his team has only a handful of players with experience at JUCO. The Roughriders are largely freshmen and NCAA Division I transfers. Still, Cougill said the team knows what to expect and is leaning on its leadership.
“We had a team meeting after the game at the hotel and (the coaches) didn’t have to say much,” Cougill said. “The sophomores did most of the talking. There are a lot of festivities in Grand Junction that aren’t distractions, but can be if you let them. It doesn’t matter if you’re playing in front of thousands of people. The great thing about baseball is that what you’re doing on the field doesn’t change.”