Pitching beating hitting after first day of World Series

Gone are the days when you can just outslug the other team in the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series.

The BBCOR bats implemented last season make even hitter-friendly Suplizio Field a place pitchers don’t have to fear.

Case in point Saturday: Iowa Western Community College, hitting .414 entering the JUCO World Series, went only 5 for 32 in Game 1, losing 5-2 to San Jacinto (Texas) College-North.

Before the tournament began, Reivers coach Marc Rardin said it could happen.

“Good pitching beats good hitting,” he said.

“The reality of it is: Once we get there, whoever settles down quickest and plays their game and doesn’t forget what got you there tends to do better.”

And that’s exactly what happened Saturday.

After Iowa Western batters hit the first two pitches of the tournament for singles, San Jacinto starter Daniel Stumpf was really good, allowing only three hits the rest of the game.

For six innings, he shut out a team that outscored its opponents 624-172 this season. Add in eight strikeouts and only one walk, and the pitching-rich Gators quickly established themselves as one of the teams to beat.

It was more of the same in the second game, when Neosho County (Kan.) Community College’s Matt Strahm shook off falling behind 3-1 after 1½ innings, then blanked Spartanburg Methodist the rest of the way.

“I thought once we got the two-run lead, (Jimmy Lindberg) would settle down,” Spartanburg coach Tim Wallace said. “Our pitcher is a finesse guy, a control guy, and you never know when you run a freshman out there. All our better pitchers are freshmen, and they’re either going to grow up quick or have a long summer to think about it.”

It was much of the same in Game 3, with Western Nevada managing only one run on five hits against Polk State (Fla.) College’s Alex Asher.

Coaches notice the difference in the new bats, especially this season, Neosho coach Steve Murry said. Murry played small ball Saturday, using three squeeze bunts to break the game open.

“It’s changing the game. It’s more like a professional game. You don’t see as many games ending 14-13. They’re more like 3-2, 5-4,” he said.

“I like it, but you better be able to pitch.”

Random thoughts: This is JUCO No. 26 for me, and although I haven’t seen it all, I’ve seen plenty.

And the first couple of days are always my favorite. Yes, they’re long, with seven games in two days, but that’s when you catch up with people you might not have seen since last year’s tournament.

It’s also when I see the coaches I’ve gotten to know over all those years.

I caught up with Rardin in the parking lot as he was on his way to the bus, and I was coming back from retrieving something from the car and got a big hug.

We chatted for a few minutes. I reminded him what he told me last week about losing a game and getting into the mindset of winning four in a row.

“We’d better, or we’re going home (today),” he said.

After another hug from Wallace after his game, he grinned and said, “Did you hear, Marty Gantt, Southern Conference player of the year?”

Wallace’s voice was bursting with pride. Gantt, the all-tournament outfielder/pitcher and Homa Thomas Sportsmanship Award winner for the Pioneers in 2009, was born without fully developed fingers on his right hand. He never let that stop him from playing the game — and playing it well.

He’s at the College of Charleston and is on the watch list for the Golden Spikes Award, which goes to the best amateur player in the nation.

He’s one of the all-time best stories of this tournament.

Over the past couple of weeks, when I’ve tracked down coaches after they won district titles, I’d tell them who I was and said those magic words: Grand Junction.

San Jacinto coach Tom Arrington just started laughing when he answered his phone.

“When the phone rang,” he told me, “D.J. (Wilson, one of his assistants) said, ‘I bet that’s Patti.’ “

If they’ve been here before, they know what’s in store. If they’re new to JUCO, they’ve heard the stories.

It’s not like we in Grand Junction take JUCO for granted, but it’s been here for 55 years and will be here at least another 25.

To us, it’s just JUCO. To junior college baseball teams across the country, it’s so much more.


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