You've heard it countless times: No lead is safe at Suplizio Field.
Iowa Western Community College baseball coach Marc Rardin knows it as well as anyone who's ever brought a team to the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series.
"I've grown up here in Grand Junction," the Iowa Western coach said Friday after his "little engine that sorta can" team reached the championship game of the JUCO World Series with a 15-7 win over Navarro College (Texas) in eight innings.
It's the fourth title game in the past 10 years for the Reivers, who were one fly ball away from ending the game a little earlier, but shook that off, just as they shook off their 23-8 loss to the same Bulldog team the night before.
"I know we looked horrible last night but it's in the grand scheme of things," Rardin said. "In 2005, coming here and winning one game and I thought they were going to give us a parade when we got home; I thought pretty big of myself. And then you get humbled, you start having some great people out here talking to you that have been involved a long time and you start listening and you start getting better and all of a sudden your team starts getting better.
"I know last night we didn't look good and it was just kind of part of the plan, some guys sacrificing and being pretty big for the team and sitting out there and it was kind of embarrassing for everybody, but again, we're tough and they flushed it immediately."
Iowa Western (52-10, 4-1 JUCO), ranked ninth in the NJCAA Division I poll, faces Central Arizona College (49-20, 4-1) at 7 tonight for the championship.
Were it not for a dropped sky-high pop fly off the bat of Jose Gonzalez Jr. with two out in the seventh inning, the Reivers could have wrapped up their spot in the title game a bit earlier. But with the two men on base taking off on contact, they both scored to cut the deficit to seven runs, not the eight needed for the run rule.
And the Bulldogs (41-18, 4-2) scored three runs in the eighth inning to make things really interesting.
Esteban Cardoza-Oquendo's solo home run started it, and Navarro added a pair of unearned runs to pull within 11-7 before Iowa Western answered in the eighth.
"We weren't deflated at all. It happens," designated hitter Greg Bennett said of the popup. "We were still up by a good amount, we had a lot of momentum and with a new pitcher on the mound, just battle. I saw a fastball and put it on it."
Bennett's leadoff home run in the eighth inning was followed by a hit batter, a base hit, a couple of wild pitches and all of a sudden, Gibson Krzeminski lashed a base hit in the gap in left-center to score Cooper Bowman with the game-ending run.
For awhile, it looked as if the Reivers were going to turn the tables on Navarro from Thursday, building an 11-2 lead by scoring in each of the first five innings. Ross Indlecoffer hit a home run in the second and Bowman singled and stole second, which led to a scary moment when Navarro reliever Collin Storms ducked so his catcher, Dawson Woods, had a better look at second. The throw, though, hit Storms in the back of the head, and he fell to the mound, grabbing his head. After being checked by trainers and doctors, he was cleared to continue.
Bowman scored on a base hit, and the Reivers got three more in the third inning, with Bennett driving home two with a double, and put up four in the fifth, including a two-run home run by Jaden Rolffs.
But when Ronald Sweeny III dropped that pop fly, as he, Bowman and second baseman Colin Kasperbauer all converged on it, the Bulldogs saw it as their chance.
"You saw some of the swings I took in the tournament, I almost flew out of my shoes," Gonzalez Jr. said, grinning. "Sometimes you have to take a team swing, and right there I was just trying to put the bat on the ball and I found barrel. It was just straight up and I knew it was going to be a challenging popup to catch because it was so high and I knew I could get to second because it was so high. I was just running hard."
Cash Rugely said the Bulldogs figured it was a sign that they were supposed to play baseball at least a little while longer, and they took advantage of it as long as they could.
After those two runs scored, Navarro put up three more in the eighth, with Gonzalez getting two home with a base hit to right after Cardoza-Oquendo hit a solo home run.
Braedyn McLaughlin kept Navarro at bay for 4 2/3 innings, allowing two runs on three hits. Brandon Doty got the win in relief, allowing one run in 1 2/3 innings.
"You can't really take that into consideration, you have to go out there and play your game," McLaughlin said of the pressure of pitching his team into the championship game. "I knew these guys had my back out there and I just had to go out and compete on the mound."
The teams combined to score 22 runs and leave 22 men on base, one more wild game in this wild week of baseball.
And tonight, Rardin said, he knows anything can happen.
"My goal 17 years ago when I took this job was to get to a national championship game," he said. "If you get to the national championship game you've got a chance, anything can happen and the three times I've been in it, there's been come crazy stuff happen and we came out winning it.
"At least we're here and we'll see what happens."