The Reiver way: Iowa Western catches key breaks in title victory

Iowa Western coach Marc Rardin with the JUCO National Championship trophy.

A sacrifice attempt that turned into a bunt single. A mid-pitch adjustment that turned into a looping single. A balk that turned into a championship-winning run.

That’s what Iowa Western Community College had to resort to in the top of the ninth inning Saturday night, rallying one final time against San Jacinto (Texas) College-North as the Reivers claimed their second Alpine Bank Junior College World Series title in three years.

The Reivers rallied from one-run deficits twice to take one-run leads earlier in the contest. Down to its final turn at the plate, Iowa Western had the right man at the plate to start the game-winning rally: tournament Most Valuable Player Keaton Steele, who drew a walk.

Then, it was pinch-hitter Grant Kay’s turn to make a big play.

After missing one attempt to bunt, Kay dropped the ball down the first-base line, where several players converged but couldn’t get the ball to first base in time to force out one of the fastest Reivers. Instead of one out on a sacrifice, it was runners on first and second with no outs.

“After I didn’t get the first one down — I didn’t pull back in time on a pretty bad pitch — I knew I just had to get it down,” Kay said of his bunt. “And when I saw it got down, I knew it had a chance. It was right in between the first baseman, second baseman and pitcher, and I just ran as hard I could, and it worked out for the best.”

A sacrifice by pinch-hitter Steven Leonard moved the runners to second and third, and designated hitter Brett Bass, who fell behind 0-2 in the count against Gators reliever A.J. Glasshof, made enough contact to loop the ball toward shallow center field. It sailed just high enough and far enough to avoid the mad chase made by San Jacinto shortstop Galli Cribbs.

“He pretty much threw me a slider that started down the middle and just broke out, and I just had to stay on it and just kind of golf it the other way,” Bass said. “I got enough of it to get it out the infield.

“I was just hoping it would get out of the infield, and he wouldn’t catch it, because we needed that run. I held my breath a little bit there.”

San Jac brought in a new pitcher, Skylar Janisse, at that point, and Janisse struck out one of the Reivers’ hottest hitters: Sam Bumpers. But Janisse then walked one of Iowa Western’s most dangerous hitters — Damek Tomscha — and that set the stage for the game-deciding play.

Before throwing his first pitch to cleanup hitter Levi Meyer, Janisse balked, sending a jubilant Kay trotting home.

“I saw him stutter a little bit when he was coming through his windup,” Kay said, “and I just started jumping up and down and yelling, ‘Balk,’ and hopefully that encouraged the umpire to see it a little more, and he called it. After that, I don’t remember much besides being really excited.”

Greater excitement ensued a half inning later.

“I had one thing on my mind, and that was to score and get this ring, and that’s what we got,” Kay said. “That was our goal all year, and it was my goal in the last inning, and it turned out great.”


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