Right on the mark

Naemark pitches Cochise past Connors State

Cochise (Ariz.) College’s Stephan Desgagne slides safely into home to score Tuesday as Connors State (Okla.) College’s Jiro Morales looks for the ball in the Apaches’ 3-1 win.

Steven Naemark takes no offense when he’s called a soft-tossing lefty.

“Not at all,” he said with a laugh and added, “I agree.”

But he figures people use a different word to characterize his pitching, offering, “I think most people would say I’m crafty.”

And crafty he was Tuesday when he went the distance, scattered eight hits and extended Cochise (Ariz.) College’s stay at the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series another day as the Apaches defeated Connors State (Okla.) College 3-1.

The Apaches (50-18) needed Naemark to be at his craftiest because for the second straight game they were in a pitchers’ duel.

This time, they were on the winning side, thanks to early struggles by Connors State starter Daniel Concepcion, who after allowing a run in the first and another run in the second, settled down and dominated the middle innings.

But as has been Cochise’s way in the postseason, they did just enough to capitalize on their own pitching.

“That’s kind of our deal,” Apaches coach Todd Inglehart said. “I think we still have been outhit in every postseason game we played this year.”

Tuesday, they were outhit 8-5, but one hit, two walks and a hit batsman netted a run in the first inning for the Apaches. Esteban Bastidas drove in the run with a single to left, but the Cowboys avoided further harm as Cochise left the bases loaded.

In the second inning, a hit batsman with one out was followed one out later by Tagg Duce’s run-scoring single.

That was all Naemark needed. Connors State got to him a bit in the fourth inning, collecting three hits, including Yariel Gonzalez’s solo home run ­— his 12th of the season. After that, he surrendered four singles the rest of the way, never more than one in an inning, and two of them were negated by double plays.

Two singles up the middle followed the home run for the Cowboys, and that led Inglehart to visit the mound. But he didn’t have anyone throwing in the bullpen because he knew Naemark would be fine.

“I went out and just told him, he’s fine. He’s fine, just do what he did, keep doing it,” Inglehart said.

Naemark said he shook the inning off, then kept doing what has worked for him all season in earning his 10th win in 13 decisions. He threw his curve and changeup and mixed in a fastball that he intentionally limits to about 80 miles per hour.

“I was working a lot off the curveball today, and I try and throw that hard, so it actually almost looks like a changeup speed-wise, as opposed to my fastball,” Naemark said. “I know I can’t blow it by guys, so I try and be crafty and hit my corners, and that’s how I get my outs.”

If he wants, Naemark can throw his fastball 87 to 88 mph, “but I leave it flat, belt-high, and these guys can catch up to that, no problem,” he said, then added, “I struggled during the season when I tried to throw hard and I tried to amp up.”

Instead, he takes the approach that has served him well since Little League, through high school, and now in college as a 23-year-old freshman.

“My main focus every time I go out … I just go out and pitch and make sure I hit my spots nice and low,” he said. “That’s key to me, and I get my outs that way.

“I’ve never gone up and just thrown as hard as I could, because it doesn’t work for me.”

While Cochise got just enough from its hitters to advance in the elimination bracket, Connors State (53-11) exited the tourney with consecutive losses to lefties lacking great fastballs.

“It’s just mental. We are used to facing guys that throw between 88 and 90 (mph), and to come out and face (the last two pitchers), it just changed our timing at the plate,” said Gonzalez, who was the leading hitter for a Cowboys squad that brought a .360 batting average to Grand Junction. “But there’s really no excuse for how we’ve hit. We’re better than that.”

Connors State coach Perry Keith said his team played hard, and he couldn’t fault the Cowboys’ effort. They just needed more hits, particularly in the clutch.

“That’s the nature of the beast in this thing,” Keith said. “We couldn’t string anything together, and we couldn’t get any two-out hits. They got some early, a couple of two-out hits.

“A couple of guys in the middle of the order just didn’t have good weekends. We gave ourselves a chance; that’s just baseball.”


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