Iowa Western rolls to third JUCO title in five years
They came to Grand Junction, they played great baseball, they dominated, and these river pirates took no prisoners.
After shredding Miami Dade College (Florida) pitching for an astounding 20 hits and getting great relief pitching, Iowa Western Community College cruised to a 17-5 win on Friday to claim its third Alpine Bank Junior College World Series championship.
Iowa Western turned in a performance for the ages, putting on a display of pure baseball excellence and domination that the tournament hasn’t seen for years, maybe decades.
“That was probably the most dominant performance we’ve had here (at JUCO),” Iowa Western coach Marc Rardin said, speaking solely of his own team.
Iowa Western’s baseball brilliance could be seen in every phase of the game Friday. From spectacular defense, which included three scintillating double plays, two started by Jacob Sheldon-Collins from his shortstop position, to great relief pitching from Drake Robison, to the hottest bats in the tournament.
Alex Krupa, the tournament MVP, had four hits, four RBI and was on base six times.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had a bigger game than this,” Krupa said. “This whole game is a blur, besides that dog pile, that’s how happy I am.”
As the Reivers (56-11) tugged on JUCO championship T-shirts and caps, the celebration was in full force. But a couple of minutes earlier, the college baseball tradition was on full display when second baseman Jason McMurray threw out a runner for the last out. Players poured out of the dugout and from around the field and mobbed Robison on the mound.
“It was a dream come true, I’ve been waiting for it for my two years,” said Robison, who pitched a scoreless final 5 1/3 innings. “I was just glad I was on the bottom of that dog pile.”
Smiles were as abundant as hits for the Reivers during their dominant tournament.
The way Iowa Western had dominated their previous three games, a rout in the title game could have been anticipated, but Miami Dade gave the Reivers a battle for a while.
After Deivy Palenzuela launched a three-run home run in the fourth, the Sharks cut the lead to 6-5. Then Marcos Barrios turned in a couple of good innings of relief.
But like they have shown all tournament long, the Reivers’ bats were never silent for long.
In the seventh, Rardin looked to the bench for a spark. He found a blow torch that ignited a five-run inning.
Ryan Merrill came up as a pinch-hitter with the bases loaded and promptly slammed a clean single up the middle to score two.
“I was just sitting on the bench, minding my own business when I hear Coach Rardin yell ‘Merrill,’ and I said, ‘Let’s do it,’ ” he said, smiling.
Then he did it again. In the top of the ninth when the Reivers turned the rout into a super rout, Merrill launched a high, towering shot to right that just crept over the wall for a three-run home run.
Just as they did throughout the tournament, the Reivers didn’t depend on only one hot hitter or one dominating pitcher. This was a team effort from top to bottom, with the usual suspects being heroes and plenty of unsung heroes sprinkled in.
Eight different Iowa Western players had hits against Miami Dade with five getting multiple hits.
Merrill was just one of the unsung heroes. Caden Moore was another. Moore was hitless in six World Series at-bats prior to Friday, then went 4 for 6 with two RBI and scored three runs.
Rardin wasn’t surprised by both players performing on the biggest stage.
“They’ve been doing it all year for us,” he said.
The Reivers didn’t start the tournament with dominance. It took a dramatic, last-inning win over Columbia State Community College (Tennessee) in the first game to get the Reivers rolling.
They scored two runs in the top of the ninth, then held off a bases-loaded threat to win 6-5.
Then, they turned Grand Junction into Rout City.
First baseman Jake Scudder said the Reivers just needed to get that first game out of the way.
“The first game was definitely a lot of jitters. A lot of guys wanted to do too much,” he said. “After we got that first one out of the way and we knew what we could do, we strung together some pretty good baseball, probably the best baseball we’ve played all year.”
Iowa Western has been in the JUCO tournament eight times since Rardin took over in 2003 and won the title in 2010, 2012 and now 2014.
Rardin said Iowa Western’s excellence over the past decade makes players want to play for the Reivers.
“We don’t have to promise anything. They know,” he said. “I came here in 2003, and every player I’ve recruited here has played in the JUCO World Series, so I don’t have to promise them anything. They know what we’re about.”
For Krupa, who wasn’t even a starter when the season began, the game was a dream come true. Friday night’s attendance was 10,123 fans, and all week long, Krupa and the Reivers played in front of huge, cheering crowds.
“It’s just awesome. I’ve never been part of anything like this before. It’s a one-time experience,” he said, then a smile emerged. “Unless we come back next year.”