It was a long wait, but it was worth it for Jefferson College (Missouri) pitcher Jason Rackers and his teammates.
The Vikings arrived in Grand Junction on Wednesday night and Rackers was ready to take the mound when he stepped off the bus. He had to wait until Saturday, however, to pitch in Alpine Bank Junior College World Series and he did not disappoint in the Vikings' 11-2 victory over Barton Community College (Kansas) at Suplizio Field.
"I couldn't wait to get out here and play," Rackers said. "We've been here since Wednesday. We've had a couple of long nights in the hotel. I was pumped to finally get out here and get on the mound to see what I could do. I've fallen into the number one role. I've accepted it. I love being out there and competing."
The 6-foot-7 freshman right-hander limited the 20th-ranked Cougars (47-14) to two runs and struck out eight batters in eight innings. The defense made plays behind him when needed and the offense produced eight runs with two outs.
Rackers had a lead to work with when he took the mound in the bottom of the first inning thanks to Matt Turino's leadoff home run.
"I think being the first time here got to us a bit," Barton coach Brent Biggs said. "That wasn't the team we had all year in a sense of the looseness and enjoying the game of baseball. We were pretty tight. Jefferson did a really good job. The leadoff home run didn't help.
"Hopefully we can learn from that, come back and fight (today)."
The Cougars' Dawson Pomeroy got a hold of a Rackers pitch that just cleared the right-field fence in the bottom of the third to tie the game at 1-1, but the eighth-ranked Vikings (53-9) took charge in the pivotal fourth inning.
With the bases loaded, Barton turned a double play and was about to escape danger, but Jefferson's Jacob Kalusniak hit the next pitch up the middle to drive in two runs for a 3-1 lead.
"I was just looking for something to hit," Kalusniak said. "Put the ball in play and found a hole. It was a great feeling."
Kalusniak was 3 for 5 with three RBI and two runs scored for the Vikings.
Barton looked to answer in their half of the fourth with the first two runners reached base. A fielder's choice forced the lead runner at home and then Rackers induced another ground ball for a double play to get out of the inning without allowing a run to score.
"The defense was unbelievable today," Rackers said. "Raul (Elguezabal) made a big play getting a guy out at home. Lately, our defense has been unbelievable."
Biggs admitted the fourth inning was the turning point.
"The play at home plate was one of the biggest ones," Biggs said. "That guys fielded that thing on the line, threw it around the base runner for a strike. That was a really good play. They got out of it without us scoring a run."
Jefferson added two runs in the fifth inning — again with two outs — on a two-run, no-doubt home run from Joey Polak for a 5-1 lead.
Barton scored one in the bottom of the fifth, but the Vikings countered with a two-out, run-scoring single in the seventh. Jefferson added three runs in the eighth and two more in the ninth.
"To get a big hit with two outs kind of kills momentum in the other dugout," Jefferson coach Pat Evers said. "Our guys have done a good job. It's been a good offense up and down the lineup throughout the year. Jack Lombardi is a perfect example of someone that struggles and looks overmatched, then produces some runs. This lineup has been dangerous one through nine."
Despite the loss, Biggs said the Cougars will be ready to play tonight.
"I think we'll be ready to go (today)," the coach said. "The message is going to be we've been in this situation. We were facing elimination last week and that was the best we've played. Hopefully we can get that same mindset."