Top-ranked Chipola first team to punch ticket to JUCO

The 50th anniversary of the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series was good to Chipola College (Florida).

Jeff Johnson hopes to enjoy the 60th birthday party just as much.

“Maybe we can make good things happen again,” Johnson said — the Indians won the national championship in 2007 and qualified again in 2008 and 2011.

“It’s been too long; it’s been since ‘11. We lost in the (district) championship a couple of times. It’s a relief, I’ll tell you that.”

The Indians, ranked No. 1 in the latest NJCAA national poll, ripped through the Gulf District tournament, going 5-0 and beating Palm Beach State 12-0 on Wednesday in the championship game. A nine-run third inning put the game out of reach, with eight of those runs scoring with two out.

Chipola (45-8) is a veteran team, with 18 sophomores, but played much of the conference season without two of its top three pitchers because of injury. They returned for the final couple of weeks of the regular season and the district playoffs.

“It was good to have them back and it helped us create some depth with other guys as well,” Johnson said. “We swung the bat extremely well the whole tournament.”

After shaking off some rust from a two-week layoff before the state tournament in a 5-2 win over St. John’s River, the bats got hot and the Indians started rolling, beating Miami-Dade 10-0, Palm Beach State 18-6 and Santa Fe 11-1, all run-rule games.

The championship game by rule was a nine-inning game, but Chipola had 12 runs after five innings. The Indians collected 15 hits, including a pair of doubles by leadoff man Jose Caballero and a home run from Reynaldo Rivera, who drove in three runs.

“We’ve had some big innings,” Johnson said. “We hope to keep having big innings on our side when we get y’all’s way and not have them against us.”

Riley Cabral scattered three hits through the first six innings, striking out seven for his second win of the tournament.

After the “war of attrition” that is the 10-team Gulf District tournament, Johnson said he’s giving his players the rest of the week off to rest up as he and his coaching staff make travel arrangements.

“We’ll have another couple of weeks off and we’ll try to intersquad, see live at-bats and keep it sharp,” Johnson said. “We’re proud to go and we’ve got to prepare and be as good as we can when we’re there.”


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