‘Surprising’ Chaps: Something clicks as Midland overcomes rough start on way to GJ
A trip to Grand Junction wasn’t even on the radar for Midland College (Texas) when it started the postseason.
Last year, the Chaparrals put together an outstanding season and earned a trip to the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series.
But this season appeared to be a lost cause after the Chaps started conference play 0-10, then 2-10, then 2-14.
Then they got hot — red hot.
“We were very fortunate to start playing really good to make it to the regionals,” Midland coach David Coleman said.
At first, the coach refused to use the word “surprising” to describe the run, but there wasn’t really a better way to describe how the Chaps punched their second straight ticket to JUCO.
“Yeah, to pull off what we did was really quite surprising,” Coleman said with a chuckle.
Midland (40-23) ended the conference season at 19-17, then continued to play well into the postseason.
“You want to be playing good at the end,” Coleman said. But the coach, who is in his eighth year with the Chaps, didn’t have a specific explanation for the turnaround.
“I wish I knew, because I would write it down and bottle it up and sell it,” he said, laughing.
The Chaps come to Grand Junction as a high-scoring team that puts up runs and looks for a large pitching staff to get the job done.
“We can score runs, and when you can score runs you always feel like you’re in the game,” he said about the team scoring 506 runs this season. That’s more than eight runs a game.
But it was the rough start that really got his relief pitching ready for the late-season run.
“One of the major keys to turning around this season was some of those freshman bullpen guys (developed),” Coleman said.
The one thing the coach points to as a strength this year is the team is full of “high-character” players.
Several of those got some invaluable experience when they played in JUCO last season. One of them is catcher/first baseman Chris Shaw, one of the Chaps’ offensive leaders with 12 home runs, 22 doubles and 57 RBI.
Coleman said the sophomore’s leadership has been huge this season.
“Shaw is our main leader, we call him ‘Coach Shaw,’ ” he said.
Coleman said having players who played in Grand Junction last year will be a big help this week.
“When you have guys who have been there and experienced it and they know how high of a level it takes to win, it helps,” he said.
Offensively, the Chaps have three guys with more than 10 home runs, led by Caleb Koedyker (13 home runs, 74 RBI) and Chris Thibideau (14 home runs, 49 RBI). Blaine Prescott is the guy who gets things started as the leadoff hitter. The freshman has scored 73 runs with 13 triples and 25 stolen bases.
Coleman admits Midland relies on scoring lots of runs, and that means he depends on a deep bullpen to help out during those high-scoring games.
“The key for us is our ability to score runs,” he said. “I know baseball is about defense and pitching, and we get that, but we need to score runs.”
Putting runs on the board lessens the pressure on his pitching staff, he added.
On the mound, Brandon Courville has thrown five complete games, with 75 strikeouts in 75 innings, and an ERA of 3.45. Thomas Mcilraith has 58 strikeouts, averaging nearly one an inning. Michael Brosig is another starter who has three complete games and has thrown 63 innings.
Reliever Clay O’Dell has appeared in 24 games and has pitched 60 innings, with a 3-0 record.
The rough start to the season helped develop a number of pitchers, Coleman said. The Chaps have 11 pitchers who have thrown at least 20 innings and five who have more than 59 innings on the mound.
When the Chaps broke for a four-day spring break after a couple of months of frustrating baseball, Coleman sent the players an email.
“I just told them don’t dread coming back. But come back with a resolve,” he said.
After playing the better teams in the conference early, the Chaps started winning and building confidence as the postseason approached.
“This team is comprised of a lot of high-character kids, they just stayed with the process,” he said.
But even with high-character guys and a baseball team getting hot at the right time, Coleman said qualifying for JUCO was a surprise, especially considering the Chaps were in the conference cellar for more than a month,
“I’ve never see something like this, not this rewarding at the end,” he said. “Then to get dogpiled and get Gatorade poured on me was nice.”
Now the Chaps will return to Grand Junction after going 1-2 last year at JUCO. After a roller-coaster season to this point, Coleman and the Chaps are thinking anything is possible.