Ten teams, one dream: JUCO World Series field set with veterans, newcomers
They warmed up longer than they played Monday, and that was just fine with Jefferson (Mo.) College baseball coach Sam Carel.
“Literally, we got it done in 10 minutes,” Carel said after the Vikings hit back-to-back doubles to score one run in the bottom of the ninth against Eastern Oklahoma and win 3-2 after the teams were postponed Sunday by lightning and rain.
“Our pitcher goes out and has a 1-2-3 inning and we come up in the bottom of the 10th and get a leadoff double to right center and a double to left-center. Game over, thanks for the memories.”
The fourth-ranked Vikings were the ninth team to qualify for the 55th annual Alpine Bank Junior College World Series. A couple of hours later, Gordon (Ga.) College claimed a 14-7 win over rival Middle Georgia College to win the East Central District and complete the field.
Gordon was the runner-up to Middle Georgia in the Region 17 tournament the week before, with the Warriors hosting the district tourney, coming through the losers’ bracket and knocking off Gordon on Sunday to force the “if” game.
Gordon’s win brings the number of first-time qualifiers to three for this year’s tournament, joining Polk State (Fla.) College and Cisco (Texas) College.
On the other end of the spectrum are 2010 JUCO champion Iowa Western Community College and five-time champion San Jacinto (Texas) College-North.
The Reivers are making their sixth straight trip to Grand Junction, where they’ll play in the first game against San Jacinto, which has been to JUCO 19 times from the North program.
San Jacinto-Central qualified three times in the 1970s before the college system merged the baseball programs into the North campus.
The luck of the district rotation pitted Iowa Western against San Jac in the opening game of the tournament at 9 a.m. Saturday.
And yes, that is a rematch of the 2010 title game, when Iowa Western became the first team from the Northern District to win the championship.
“They know us and we know them,” Iowa Western coach Marc Rardin said Monday. “It’s fun. If you’re gonna be there, you might as well match up a team that can hit a little bit with a team that can really pitch it.”
Iowa Western is ranked No. 1 in the latest NJCAA Division I poll, which will be updated again before the tournament stats. San Jac is No. 17.
Jefferson is No. 4, Polk State No. 5, Cisco No. 10 and Neosho County (Kan.) Community College No. 14.
Spartanburg (S.C.) Methodist is No. 15 and Western Nevada College No. 20. Gordon was among the teams receiving votes last week. Only Shelton State (Ala.) College was not in the national rankings.
General admission tournament passes are on sale throughout town for JUCO, and single-game reserved seats are available through Monumental Events.
JUCO Week begins in earnest Wednesday, when the three new members of Home Run Alley Heroes are introduced and fans are invited to tour the stadium project from noon-2 p.m. Free hot dogs and soft drinks will be served and fans can visit all three levels of the Lincoln Park Tower and check out the new stadium seating in the first-base stands, as well as the other amenities, including new concession areas and restrooms.
The annual American Baseball Coaches Association JUCO kids clinic is from 5-7 p.m. on Thursday at Suplizio Field, with members of the participating JUCO teams instructing boys and girls age 5 and older on several aspects of the game.
The banquet begins with a social hour at 6 p.m. Friday at Two Rivers Convention Center, with dinner starting at 7. The teams will be introduced, three men will enter the NJCAA Coaches Hall of Fame and legendary basketball coach Don Meyer will be the keynote speaker.
Banquet tickets are $40 each and are on sale at the JUCO office in the Home Loan Building at Fourth Street and Rood Avenue.