This season is the first year Central Arizona College qualified for the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series since Anthony Gilich took over the program, but it's not his first time coaching the national championship game.
Gilich, who was an assistant for the Vaqueros for seven seasons before becoming the head coach in 2015, took the reins in the 2011 JUCO World Series championship game against Navarro College (Texas) because Central Arizona head coach Joe Wente was ejected in the previous game. The Bulldogs defeated Central Arizona 6-4 with a walk-off home run in the 10th inning.
Gilich is leaning on that previous championship-game experience at 7 tonight when the Vaqueros (49-20) play for the national championship against Iowa Western Community College (52-10).
"One thing I'm going to try to express to the guys tomorrow is to try to slow the game down," Gilich said. "I can remember in 2011, our guys were so amped up. I think we gave up a three spot in the first inning. Emotions were running so high. It's a national championship game, you're going to get fired up no matter what. You don't need to generate any extra emotion. If nothing else, you need to pull it back just a hair.
"Once the game gets going, it's just baseball. The first couple innings, you have a tendency to look around. The place is going to be packed. It's going to hit them, they are playing for a national championship."
The 2011 championship game was not Gilich's first as the head coach in the JUCO World Series either. He was pressed into duty in his first season at Central Arizona in 2008 against Iowa Western when both head coaches were ejected after each team's pitchers threw at batters after an umpire's warning. The Vaqueros and Reivers went on to set a tournament record with 47 runs scored in Central Arizona's 28-19 victory. Central Arizona finished third.
"That was a wild one for sure," said Gilich, who took over head coaching responsibilities for the rest of the game and coached the next game because ejected coaches must sit out the next game as well. Grayson College (Texas) defeated Central Arizona in that game and went on to win the national championship.
Neither Gilich nor Iowa Western coach Marc Rardin are not exactly hoping for another 28-19 game tonight and will likely make as many pitching changes as possible to keep the championship from becoming a game with a football score.
"I've said it from the first day here, Central Arizona is the best team here," Rardin said. "You got to show up; you've got to throw strikes with two pitches and hit a round ball with a round bat. Someone's got to catch it and someone's got to throw it. There's a lot of stuff going on. In 2010, we had to beat San Jac twice and we did it. In 2012, we lost our first game in the World Series then won five straight. In 2014, we had a run difference of 52-11 in the tournament and the national championship game was 17-5.
"You are going to find us even keel. Central Arizona thrives on a lot of energy. Don't get us wrong, that we're not locked in on the game, it's just not what we do. They play with tremendous energy."
Gilich was impressed with the Reivers in their 14-4 victory over Central Arizona in Tuesday's Game 13 of the World Series.
"Against us, it seemed like (the Reivers) didn't make a mistake," Gilich said. "(Rardin) runs a tight ship. They played clean baseball against us and they can hit. They do a good job offensively and handle the bat well."
Central Arizona had Friday off and Iowa Western has played the past two nights and gone through nine pitchers in the two games.
"Most of the time in baseball, you're used to playing every day anyways," Rardin said. "In 2012, it was a huge advantage for us. We finished the year 62-6. We lost our first game here. We had to play three days in a row. I think that was the best thing for us. We're not worried about having to play (Friday) and again tonight."
Rardin admitted he was not sure who he would start on the mound tonight, but mentioned sophomore right-hander Jordan Bonk as a possibility.
Gilich said he plans on starting Jonathon Stroman in tonight's championship game. Stroman pitched the Vaqueros to a 10-2 victory over Chattahoochee Valley earlier in this World Series. Stroman limited the Pirates to one earned run on two hits, four walks and struck out 10 in six innings.
"Our formula all year has been to limit the walks and the errors," Gilich said. "(Thursday) we gave up four home runs, but only five runs. You can survive, especially here. There will be some home runs, runs scored, metal bat, Colorado, short field. If you keep the innings to ones and twos, you got a chance, but when you start giving up crooked numbers it's going to be tough."
"These guys don't remember what happened 15 minutes ago, let alone 10 years ago," Gilich said. "They are living in the moment. It's two different teams. It's fun for me to remember the battles we've had with these teams, but I don't think our guys is aware of it."