TIGER MEMORIES: Cowley College hoping to win another JUCO
Cowley College (Kansas) doesn’t like to miss milestone anniversaries.
During the 40th anniversary of the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series, the Tigers made their first JUCO appearance and won the first of their two titles.
They returned for the 50th anniversary and now they’re back for the 60th. There’s some added motivation, too, after the Tigers went 0-2 at last year’s tournament.
“There’s always motivation every year to stay a game longer than you did before,” coach Dave Burroughs said. “We’ve just got to show up and enjoy it without putting too much pressure on our guys. But you know what, there are some of our guys who want to make some noise and hopefully fans will see a little bit more of us this year, but that’s all part of the series. Anything can happen.”
Last year’s version of the Tigers was good on the mound, even though their pitching struggled at the JUCO World Series.
This year’s team definitely has pitching — right-handers Ben Strahm and Garrett Hutson have worked deep into games and logged many innings — but Cowley College has leaned on its solid contact hitting, plus a little pop.
Seven regular starters have batting averages above .300, six players have at least 10 doubles and five players have hit at least five home runs. That depth has the Tigers with few weak spots in their lineup.
Still, Burroughs said whatever a team has done prior to arriving in Grand Junction goes out the window once it steps onto Suplizio Field.
“Everything that’s happened before that first pitch of the first game doesn’t really matter,” Burroughs said. “Our guys have a pretty good game plan going into this, but you’re playing in a national tournament in front of a few more people and anything can wreck your season.
“Our guys have been good and I don’t want to take anything away from them or make them feel like they have to do anything differently.”
Cowley second baseman Kea’von Edwards was taken late in the 2016 MLB Draft out of high school, but opted for the Tigers and had an outstanding season. He leads Cowley with 18 doubles, 13 home runs and 56 RBI to go with 18 stolen bases and a .362 batting average.
The Tigers return three starters from last year’s team — infielders Jacob Means and Connor Litton, and outfielder Joel Spain. They also have some unconventional leadership in Bret Fehr, who turns 22 this summer.
Fehr transferred from Wichita State after two years with the Shockers. After a redshirt season, the Manhattan, Kansas, native struggled to see the field.
But for the Tigers, he’s been, as Burroughs put it, “exactly what we needed.”
“He stepped in at the leadoff spot and filled a role that we really needed,” Burroughs said. “He’s set the table for us and done what we needed him to do.”
Fehr has a team-high 21 stolen bases and 65 runs scored. He’s among the top five on the team in batting average (.366), RBI (47), home runs (nine), triples (four) and doubles (14).
On the mound, Strahm and Hutson have combined for 11 complete games. Strahm has a 1.99 ERA and 73 strikeouts in 72 1/3 innings. Hutson has a slightly higher strikeout ratio, fanning 68 batters in 64 2/3 innings, and also a slightly higher ERA at 2.37.
A third starter, Jacob Ruder, leads the Tigers with a 77 strikeouts — including 10 strikeouts in five innings against Allen Community College (Kansas) — but has a 5.28 ERA in 61 1/3 innings.
In the bullpen, Cowley has seven relievers who have logged at least 25 innings. The Tigers average almost one strikeout per inning across its entire staff.
“We’re happy with the group that we have,” Burroughs said. “We feel good about three or four starters who have improved up to this point and we’re comfortable with any guy in the bullpen at any time.”