Steele the one
Chipola left-hander's gem vs. San Jac sends JUCO to winner-take-all game
In a tournament filled with gaudy offensive numbers, it’s understandable to think Friday night would be more of the same.
Evan Steele had other thoughts, including coming out for the ninth inning despite already throwing 134 pitches.
“Yeah, he came up to me, looking at me, giving me that look and I just couldn’t let it go,” Steele said of his quick conversation with Chipola College (Florida) coach Jeff Johnson before heading to the mound in the final inning. “I had to tell him he had to let me go out there again.”
The sophomore left-hander was masterful in pitching the Indians into tonight’s championship game of the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series with a 7-1 victory over San Jacinto College-North (Texas). Steele, a transfer from Vanderbilt, went eight innings, allowing only one run on three hits. Reliever Robbie Knox spelled him after one batter in the ninth, with Steele leaving to a standing ovation from the crowd of 10,223.
“We’ve been waiting for that pitching performance the whole tournament and I think y’all have been, too,” Johnson said.
“I’m not going to say what he told me in the ninth inning when I told him he wasn’t going to go back out, but that’s the type of guy you want in your dugout with you.”
Steele had a no-hitter through five innings, but gave up a single up the middle to Tristan Metten with one out in the sixth. Metten was thrown out trying to steal but Steele walked two batters and allowed an infield single to load the bases.
San Jacinto (48-17, 5-1 JUCO) was threatening to get right back in the game, which Chipola (50-9, 5-1) led 3-0 at the time.
On a 3-2 pitch to Nick Perez, the Gators’ No. 5 hitter, Steele threw a filthy breaking ball that had Perez way out in front.
“I threw him a curveball, just basically had to gut it up and hope that he swung,” said Steele, who finished with six walks and 12 strikeouts, throwing a whopping 143 pitches (83 strikes). “It was either win or lose right there.”
That at-bat was one of a couple of key situations that cost the Gators, who went into the game undefeated in the tournament.
“Nick Perez really fought it off well, a good at-bat,” San Jacinto coach Tom Arrington said. “We had an opportunity with bases loaded and really, really worked hard for that one. He threw a 3-2 breaking ball and we swung over it.”
Steele said he realized in the fifth that the Gators hadn’t had a hit yet.
“You keep going through the game and through innings and something popped up, ‘Hey, you haven’t given one up yet, but you’ve walked three or four guys, so ...’ ’’ he said, grinning.
After striking out Perez, he gave up only one more hit, to Ryan Johnson on single to right to lead off the seventh.
Johnson came out a couple of times and every time, Steele convinced him he was fine. Or so he thought.
“Trey Dawson said the first time when Coach came out, ‘There’s no way he’s coming out right here,’ ’’ Steele said. “It makes you feel really good when you’ve got guys like that behind you and guys who are fighting for you.”
“What they didn’t know,” Johnson said, “is there was no way he was coming out.”
Not until he walked the leadoff man in the ninth, that is.
“We hadn’t put him out there that long all year and I felt like he can do that once a year,” Johnson said. “You’ve got time to rest now, but you don’t do it two or three times a year.”
Chipola’s hitters gave Steele enough run support by scoring three runs in the first three innings. Chris Clayton, who went 3 for 3, singled and took third on Jose Caballero’s double. The both scored when Jacob Silverstein singled to left.
Brody Wofford singled and scored in the third, and Dawson lined a two-run home run to right in the sixth. Clayton squeezed home another run in the seventh.
“You can never have a big enough lead here,” Clayton said. “It’s something we work on all year and it paid off today.”
Reynaldo Rivera launched his fifth home run of the tournament in the eighth inning, the 62nd home run of the week, tying the tournament record.
The Gators’ Herbert Iser nearly broke the record in the ninth, but was robbed by Wofford, who timed his jump perfectly, bringing the ball back in the park.
“Off the bat I knew it was going to be a do-or-die play, it was going to be a close call,” Wofford said. “Our center fielder, Jacob Silverstein, did a great job of letting me know where the wall was and timing it up, and that played a big role in me making that catch.”
Arrington went out to ask the outfield umpire about the call after hearing a loud bang, unsure if it was the ball hitting something on the other side of the fence or if it was Wofford hitting the wall.
“That catch, I don’t know if you all heard it, but it hit metal and then it was back and forth and it was another tough call in this park,” Arrington said. “I was really impressed, the umpire ran right out there and saw it. I thought we barreled some balls up, our guys left on a positive note and said all right, let’s approach (tonight’s) game with somebody new. I don’t think they’ll throw Steele again; let’s hope not.”
Johnson has told his players all week that after dropping their second game of the tournament, to San Jacinto, that they had to just keep grinding to get to today.
“There are two teams, if they’re not the best two teams in the country in junior college baseball, it’s pretty dang close,” Johnson said. “It’s just a great thing, a great tribute for these two teams to match up against each other one more time for the final game of the year.”