Giving up a 7-spot right out of the gate would demoralize a lot of baseball teams.
It just fueled Central Arizona College.
The Vaqueros came roaring back Saturday night to win their first Alpine Bank Junior College World Series championship since 2002, scoring 10 straight runs over the first three innings after Iowa Western Community College scored seven in the top of the first, and pulled away for a 13-8 victory.
"We told the guys when we rallied them up after they scored seven we said, 'Hey, we just have to find a way to score one. Just one right here, just to get a piece of the momentum back,' " a drenched Central Arizona coach Anthony Gilich said. "For us to get four, that was huge, then we're down three with eight innings to go, I felt pretty good about it. We challenged the guys to get one, and to get four really put us back in the game."
With tournament MVP Hunter Jump launching a three-run home run in the bottom of the first after the Reivers scored seven runs in the top half of the 44-minute first inning, Central Arizona was just getting warmed up.
"The best thing about our team is we can definitely come back," Jump said. "We've been down 10-0. We're used to coming back. I trust these guys can hit. My job was just to shorten up and put the ball in play. It just happened to go long."
After Jonathan Stroman couldn't get out of the first inning, the Vaqueros turned to freshman right-hander Mitchell DeCovich, who had pitched only one inning in the tournament. He was exactly what Central Arizona needed, limiting the Reivers to only one run on two hits over six innings of work. He struck out Caleb Balgaard to end the first, then threw four shutout innings and let his offense do the rest.
"It was a tough situation to go into after the performance Stro(man) had, but he knew I had his back and he had mine," DeCovich said. "I knew I was coming into a spot where I could help my team out and do some work and I came through."
After 105 pitches, his night was done in the seventh inning, but not before his infielders gave him bear hugs and the rest of his teammates met him at the dugout for more.
"I told him to go out there and just get us two zeroes and he did better than that," Gilich said. "Give us two zeroes and maybe we can chip away at this thing a little bit. He was unbelievable. We had faith in him. Earlier this week someone asked how's our pitching, and we had a couple of guys we felt good about. He'd thrown one inning in the tournament and we felt good that he'd go out and compete. He's got good stuff, and the big thing is, he's not scared. I knew the moment wouldn't be too big for him and he did an outstanding job."
DeCovich, who has a little bit of a shimmy in his windup, rocking back and forth before he gets set, said he threw his two-seam fastball, change-up and slider.
"The big one was the slider," he said. "That was a big wipe-out pitch for me and it showed up today and helped me out a lot."
And the shimmy?
"A little footstep, I guess," he said. "A little bit of timing mechanism to help me calm down and stay focused."
He certainly was calm and focused on the biggest stage he's pitched in, and in his longest stint of the season. DeCovich walked four and struck out six in front of 9,203 fans.
"My arm is going to be a little sore for a few weeks, but it's totally worth it," he said with a grin.
As DeCovich was silencing the Reivers' bats, the Vaqueros got a leadoff double from Jake Meyer in the second inning and an RBI single from Ernny Ordonez.
The big inning was the third, when back-to-back walks to open the inning led to a five-run outburst and put the Vaqueros up for good.
No. 9 hitter Ian Raidy delivered a bases-loaded single to get two runs home, a wild pitch scored another run, Liam Spence walked and eventually came around to score on a balk, and the Vaqueros swiped another run when Clayton Keyes struck out, but Iowa Western catcher Jaden Rolffs dropped the third strike, so he threw Keyes out at first.
On the throw, Raidy stole home. By the end of the inning, Central Arizona was up 10-7, got two more home in the fifth on a home run by Spence, and Ordonez added a solo shot in the sixth.
"To get here we were down seven in game 3 of our conference, we've done it before," Ordonez said. "We knew how they were going to attack us and we had an approach and we stuck to our approach and it worked out in the first inning. We built confidence with those four runs and took off from there."
The way the game started, it looked as if ninth-ranked Iowa Western was well on its way to a fourth national championship in the past 10 years, with Stroman walking the first two batters he faced, throwing a pair of wild pitches, and Ronald Sweeny III singling home two runs.
Rolffs crushed a three-run home run to center, Isaiah Peterson followed with a double and scored on Colin Kasperbauer's two-out double to left. Cooper Bowman, the 10th of 11 men to bat in the inning, doubled off the center-field wall to score Kasperbauer for a 7-0 lead.
Iowa Western coach Marc Rardin said he knew seven wasn't going to be enough, because the Reivers' pitching staff couldn't throw up zeroes to match DeCovich.
"First of all, it's the top of the first," Rardin said. "Maybe 10 years ago, I would've been fired up and sucked in by that, but I also knew we still had to get 27 outs. Our turf toe or black eye all year has been our pitching. That's the reality of it. We had 10 freebies — walks and hit batsmen — five of them scored. They had one more hit than us. Do the math. That's what we've been fighting all year."
They were also fighting a fired-up dugout on the third-base side. Central Arizona's bench never lost steam, and it helped the unranked Vaqueros (50-20) take home the trophy.
"Coach has been challenging us all year, we've been through a lot," Ordonez said. "I didn't feel like we had nerves, but that first inning we came back in that dugout and our bench players are amazing. They keep in the game, they're positive at all times, no matter what the score is. Every guy on this team is huge."
Gilich said he gives the Vaqueros some leeway when it comes to dugout antics because it works for this group.
"The energy about them is incredible," he said. "Against Walters, to give up three in the bottom of the ninth and then take it right back with the 7-spot, to give up seven tonight and get back with four. It takes a tough team to do that and a loose team. I let them have some freedom as long as they're being respectful to the other team. I let them have some freedom and let them go and have some personality."
As the Vaqueros were celebrating with one another and their families and snapping photos, Ordonez couldn't stop smiling. To hit a home run in a national championship game was just the topper.
"It's a dream. It's a dream come true," he said of the title. "I was floating around those bases."
Gilich, too, is living a dream.
"It's pretty unreal," he said. "You talk about this all year long, you dream about it and for it to happen is something different. You always believe it can happen, but then for it to happen, it's pretty special."