Reivers reign: Iowa Western wins first JUCO World Series in fourth straight appearance
Yes, it’s Iowa.
No team from the Northern District had ever won the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series.
Not until Saturday night, that is.
Iowa Western Community College, in dramatic fashion, scored two runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to win the school’s first national baseball championship 5-4 over San Jacinto (Texas) College-North at Suplizio Field.
“It’s awesome for the Northern District,” Iowa Western coach Marc Rardin said. “The Northern District is on a pedestal tonight. We played a great San Jac team, a very athletic team. On paper, there’s no way we play with them and here we are.”
The Reivers, ranked fifth in the nation, did what few thought was possible, beating top-ranked San Jac in back-to-back games. And they did it by staying true to how they play baseball, hitting up and down the lineup, playing solid defense and getting good pitching.
And a few breaks along the way.
After Ryan Hutchison was thrown out at the plate for the second out of the eighth inning on a ground ball to third base by Ivan Hartle, Rardin called for a double steal, with Hartle taking second and Adam Lavelle, who had walked, third.
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And then it happened — a wild pitch by Clay Schrader allowed Lavelle to score the tying run.
“What I did automatically is I stole, so that takes their breaking ball, traditionally hard breaking ball, away because (of the possibility of a wild pitch),” Rardin said. “They still throw it and we get the run. That’s just how way I play.
“You’re trying to put the pressure back on them. They were giving it and we took it. It really worked out the way you want. You can score from third eight other ways than you can from second base. We moved everybody up and that happens. That’s Reiver baseball.”
Brandon Bass, on a full court, laced an RBI single up the middle and Hartle, the tournament MVP, dashed home with the go-ahead run, pumping his fist as the Iowa dugout erupted.
“I knew we’d get a chance, we were the home team and we had the last at-bat,” Bass said. “Guys did a great job the whole game just battling and sticking in the game. The two guys in front of me did a good job getting on. I just wanted to put the ball in play and I did. I was fortunate to find a hole.
“They threw me like six straight curveballs and I kind of knew it was coming on the last pitch. I was out in front a little bit but I was just fortunate to get it to go through.”
In the ninth, Rardin, coaching in his fifth JUCO World Series, went to Taylor Eikenberry, who struck out Will Fontnow.
Third baseman Brent Seifert then made the defensive play of the tournament, making a diving stop of a ball headed down the third-base line and throwing out Riley Hornback.
Deric Hawkins was caught looking at the final pitch of the tournament, setting off an even wilder celebration on the mound.
The win by Iowa Western thwarted yet another title chance for San Jacinto, which has won more national titles (five) and been to JUCO more times (21) than any other team in NJCAA Division I baseball.
“We had so many guys on base in both games and couldn’t come up with the big hit we needed to,” San Jacinto coach Tom Arrington said. “The opportunities were there but we couldn’t get the hit.
“We left the bases loaded one time with no outs and that really hurts you. When we were shut down with the bases loaded, I think they got some energy knowing they were just one run down.”
Iowa Western, which downed San Jacinto 10-4 on Friday night to force a second title game, scored three runs in the first inning. Hartle hit the first pitch he saw off the fence in right-center for a double, stole third and scored on an errant pickoff attempt after Seifert walked.
Anthony Bemboom singled up the middle, and with two out, San Jacinto starter Chris McKenzie walked three straight batters to score two runs.
After the third walk, his 35th pitch of the inning, he was lifted in favor of Creighton Hoke, who got Lavelle to pop out in foul territory behind third base.
Hoke lasted through the third inning, then gave way to Mark Herrera, who wiggled out of trouble several times in his third appearance of the tournament.
Jarrett Higgins, the Gators’ speedy leadoff man, tripled to lead off the third inning and scored when Fontnow singled to right.
Ryan Hornback walked and he and Fontnow came home on Hawkins’ opposite-field double to left for a 4-3 lead.
It stayed that way, with both teams missing countless scoring chances, until the Reivers cashed in in the eighth.
Iowa Western’s victory capped a 12-month quest to erase the memory of back-to-back run-rule losses in last year’s tournament.
Ironically, the Reivers were the first team eliminated last year and the last team to leave the field this year.
“This team got 10-runned twice and went home in 24 hours,” Rardin said. “It just tells you what they’re all about. This whole fall when we lifted weights every morning at 6 a.m., they wore a T-shirt with the scores from last year on the back at the World Series where we got 10-runned in two games. ‘Work like you have something to prove’ was under the scores.
“That was the T-shirts they wore four mornings a week at 6 a.m. There you go.”