SPORTS STORIES OF 2010: Bryce Harper, Reivers’ win make 2010 JUCO one to remember
Never before had there been a buzz like the one leading up to the 2010 Alpine Bank Junior College World Series.
“Is the phenom going to be here?” “How’s the Sports Illustrated cover boy doing?” “What’s that kid’s name? Harper? Is he gonna make it to JUCO?”
The JUCO World Series, from Bryce Harper’s effect on the tournament to Iowa Western Community College’s thrilling victory in the championship game over top-ranked San Jacinto (Texas) College-North, was voted the top local sports story of 2010.
The phenom, the Sports Illustrated cover boy, the kid, the LeBron of baseball ... no matter what you called him, Harper, the hard-hitting catcher from second-ranked College of Southern Nevada, was the player everyone wanted to see.
They wanted to see if he was as good as advertised, if he was legit.
They wanted to see the projected No. 1 draft pick play ball.
They wanted to be part of the hype.
National media, which have ignored the JUCO World Series for 50-some years, suddenly decided Grand Junction was the place to be in late May.
Baseball America, Sports Illustrated and SportsIllustrated.com showed up.
Reporters and columnists from Washington, D.C., called The Daily Sentinel more than once before and during the tournament, checking on the future Washington Nationals draft pick.
Interview requests were rampant, because Harper, other than once or twice, hadn’t been allowed to speak to the media all season.
A couple of days before the teams arrived, Harper’s coach, Tim Chambers, and father, Ron, relented and agreed Bryce would meet with the media, but made it clear he would not be talking about the upcoming amateur draft.
More than 10,000 fans packed the stands for his first game, and they kept coming in record numbers, even when he wasn’t on the field.
By Friday night, more people had filed into Suplizio Field than ever before, 129,693.
Another 8,227 showed up Saturday night, bringing the final numbers to 138,020. The single-day record of 29,339 was shattered when 30,639 showed up for opening day. The fireworks game on May 31 between Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College and San Jacinto drew a record 12,309.
Harper had a solid first three games, hitting a couple of impressive home runs in his second game, but midway through the tournament, the pressure seemed to finally get to the 17-year-old.
In the fifth inning, Harper took a called third strike, and as he was walking back to the dugout, he drew a line in the opposite batter’s box, showing home plate umpire Don Gilmore where he thought the pitch actually was.
Gilmore immediately ejected Harper, who left the field — and the tournament — without a word. It was his second ejection of the season, which drew a two-game suspension.
The Coyotes lost that game against San Jacinto, and their next, ending Harper’s amateur career.
He hit .462 with two home runs and nine RBI. A few days later, he was picked No. 1 by the Nationals, and just minutes before the signing deadline Aug. 16, he agreed to a five-year, $9.9 million contract.
In the instructional league, Harper hit .319, and was then assigned to the Arizona Fall League, where he hit .343 with Scottsdale. He was placed on the taxi squad, playing twice a week and spending the rest of the time working on his swing and converting from a catcher to an outfielder.
He’ll open the 2011 season in Class A.
Once Harper and the Coyotes left town, the tournament settled down, with San Jacinto making its way to the championship game, where Iowa Western, after eliminating Southern Nevada, came through the losers’ bracket.
The two met Friday night in front of a full house, with Iowa Western scoring seven runs in the first two innings off San Jacinto’s Miguel Peña, including yet another leadoff home run by Ivan Hartle, who had three leadoff home runs in the tournament.
The Reivers won 10-4 to set up Saturday night’s winner-take-all game, and until the eighth inning, it appeared the Gators would finally give coach Tom Arrington his first national title and the school’s record sixth.
Derek Hawkins hit an opposite-field double in the third inning to give San Jac a 4-3 lead.
It stayed that way until the eighth, when coach Marc Rardin called for a double steal, putting runners at second and third.
San Jac’s Clay Shrader threw a wild pitch to score the tying run, and Brandon Bass drilled a base hit up the middle to score Hartle with the go-ahead run.
Hartle was selected the Preston Walker Most Valuable Player and also took home the Tex Tolman Outstanding Defensive Player award and made the all-tournament team.
Taylor Eikenberry slammed the door in the ninth to give Iowa Western its first national championship, and the first JUCO title for a Northern District team.
The win ended not only a whirlwind week for Grand Junction, but capped a worst-to-first year for the Reivers.
Iowa Western was the first team eliminated from the 2009 JUCO World Series, losing in back-to-back run-rule games.
“This team got 10-runned twice and went home in 24 hours,” Rardin said. “It just tells you what they’re all about.”