The young Bucs: Youth movement propels Blinn College to big stage
Sometimes the youth was evident during the downs in an up-and-down regular season.
But the reason seven freshmen start on the Blinn College (Texas) baseball team surfaced enough times, and ultimately at the most important time, to justify seventh-year coach Harvey McIntyre’s youth movement.
The Buccaneers (34-26) won the Southern District to reach the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series for the first time since 1992, and although that might have surprised their coach somewhat, it didn’t surprise the freshmen. They dared from the season’s outset to talk about playing in the World Series.
“All year long they’ve been talking about Grand Junction, Colorado,” said McIntyre, who was an assistant for seven years at Blinn before becoming the head coach. “They kept saying, ‘We believe.’ They played like they did. They truly did. They made me a believer, too.”
Blinn is a young team that got better week to week, McIntyre said, and it took some lumps. Alvin Community College (Texas) won seven of eight games during the regular season against the Buccaneers. And guess who was waiting in the district tournament along with a bevy of other excellent Texas teams? Alvin.
But the regular season no longer mattered. Despite losing its final three games of the regular season to Galveston College (Texas), Blinn made that point right away, opening with a 7-2 win over Navarro College (Texas), then beating Alvin 6-3.
“It was a big test for us, no doubt, getting through them the first game,” McIntyre said of the win over Alvin.
And his players were really believing in themselves.
But Alvin reappeared and beat Blinn 12-4 to force a second game for the district title. Then, the Buccaneers’ defiant youth rose up in the biggest game of the season and beat back Alvin 12-4.
Freshmen outnumber the sophomores 22-10 on the Blinn roster, and two of the second-year players are pitchers who are out for the season with injuries: Weston Wick and Tyler Day.
Wick and freshman Ryan Capel didn’t throw at all this season, and each will have Tommy John surgery, McIntyre said. Day, who played for Palisade High School until he moved away after his junior season, hasn’t thrown since the middle of March because of injury.
Day’s father, Steve, pitched for Colorado Mesa, and his mother, Jenny, played volleyball for the Mavericks.
Those three pitchers, McIntyre said, were probably going to combine to throw 150 to 175 innings this season. Without them, the Buccaneers needed others to step forward, and they did.
Chief among the pitchers this season has been Robbie Dickey, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound, hard-throwing lefty who is the No. 1 junior college prospect in the nation, according to Perfect Game. Dickey, who throws 95 mph, sports an 8-4 record and a 2.59 ERA. He has thrown a team-high 80 innings, walking 38 batters and striking out 91.
“He’s the real deal,” McIntyre said, adding Dickey is projected to be drafted somewhere in the second to fifth rounds.
And if Dickey doesn’t go pro, he has a scholarship to NCAA Division I Texas State, where two of his teammates, pitchers Keith Brenner and Dillon Mazzoccoli, are headed this fall.
Mazzaccoli, the team’s closer, has five saves.
The pitching has been solid, and the hitting has been OK with a .280 team batting average and some power, especially freshman No. 3 hitter Nolan Brown (team-high .409 average, seven home runs, 40 RBI) and sophomore cleanup hitter Cullen Gassaway (.310, 8 HR, team-high 57 RBI).
Where the Buccaneers shine, however, is in the field.
“This has been the best defense we’ve had,” McIntyre said. “Defensively, in the dirt, I’m putting us up against anyone in the country.
“Our third baseman (Caden Williams), shortstop (Jose Reyes) and second baseman (Cullen Jozwiak) are freshmen, and they’ve been awesome. ... If you put up runs against us, you’re going to have to earn them.”
McIntyre knows pretty much every team talks about chemistry, and even he’ll hear it and say, “Whatever!” But he added, “When you don’t have it, you dang sure want it.”
This team has it.
“You can just tell,” McIntyre said.
And last but not least with the 2014 Buccaneers, McIntyre is proud to say they are smart kids in the classroom, as this group has the combined grade-point average of 3.0 or higher that is needed to be recognized as an NJCAA All-Academic Team. It also is the Blinn baseball team’s fifth straight year of being recognized for academics.
“That embodies everything we’re trying to do,” McIntyre said.