Knowledge is a great thing. Pairing that knowledge with execution is even better.
San Jacinto College-North (Texas) coach Tom Arrington and starting pitcher Luke Matheny knew what the College of Southern Idaho's gameplan would be Thursday at the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series — laying down bunts, pushing runners over and taking extra bases.
Turning that knowledge into execution was a problem early on.
"You know, Luke Matheny, we were expecting that," Arrington said. "I talked to him earlier today and said 'Look they're gonna bunt on you. He said 'OK, that's good. I'll field it and get it over there.' And we just couldn't. They put the pressure on us and before you know it, we're down 3-0."
It took stellar relief pitching and a late surge of hitting for the Gators to secure an 8-6 victory at Suplizio Field.
Trailing 3-0, San Jacinto (52-14, 3-1 JUCO) responded with an RBI single from Peter Zimmerman, but Matheny was chased in the second inning after the Golden Eagles (52-12, 2-2) scratched out another run. Southern Idaho leadoff hitter Travis Bohall singled, advanced to second on a wild pitch, then stole third. His base running set up an RBI single by Hayden Leatham to give the Golden Eagles a 4-1 lead.
Matheny's exit changed San Jac's lineup on the field as well, because his brother, Jacob, started at catcher. Arrington said the brothers, both sons of St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, work well together and typically start together.
Once the Gators changed pitchers, Chezzare Gonzalez kicked off 4 1/3 innings of solid relief work, his only blemish an RBI single by Nolan Walker in the fifth that tied the game 5-5. CSI left the bases loaded, too, for the second time in the game.
San Jac took the lead a half-inning earlier with a four-run rally. Trent Franson launched a two-run home run to left field to make it 4-3. Nick Neville followed with a single, then he stole second and advanced to third on a throwing error. He scored on Jordan Myrow's single, who then moved to second on a wild pitch and third on a fly ball to the outfield. Myrow scored on a double from Tyriece Silas, one of four hits for the freshman.
Gonzalez pitched into the sixth inning for San Jacinto. Aaron George pitched the rest of the way, allowing one hit in three innings with four strikeouts and no walks.
"Well, Chezz, he's a low three-quarter, not-quite-submarine guy," Arrington said. "He's got a lot of sink on the ball and then a sweeping slider. The idea was to keep them off-balance and keep the ball low. The wind, we knew it was going to be a little higher today, going 15-17 mph, so the sink on it and the depth he has was key to us.
"Bringing in Aaron George, that's just what he's done all along. He throws a heavy fastball, so it's hard to get some lift on him. He ended up giving up a home run in the top of the ninth on a hanging slider, but for the most part — he's a sinker, slider guy with a big frame that's tough to hit from — that's what he brought to it."
With the game tied 5-5, the Gators tacked on three runs in the seventh and eighth innings. Silas drove in the first run with a sacrifice fly despite a diving catch from Leatham in left field. Zimmerman added an RBI single to center, then Herbert Iser drove a 435-foot home run in the eighth inning to make it 8-5.
Leatham turned around in the top of the ninth and cranked a 455-foot home run off the light pole in left to cap scoring.
Southern Idaho coach Boomer Walker said after the game that Leatham, the Golden Eagles' top hitter all season, was playing with a broken left hand after he was hit by a pitch Wednesday night.
"He told me that there's no way he's not playing today," Walker said. "He ends up with three hits with a broken hand and he hits the farthest ball he's ever hit in his life. That's the kind of group we have. Guys who are willing to do whatever it is to get an opportunity to play, to get an opportunity to play for CSI."
Walker added that this team has changed the recruiting blueprint for the Golden Eagles.
"We had to change a lot in our philosophy because we were trying to get the best possible players," Walker said. "Over time, we were just like 'We need the best possible people.' Guys who want to play together and fight for something. I've said it the entire year, our group last year was way more talented. Not even close and we won 20 games. This group, they just play. They just bought into who we are.
"I think we all thought we were going to be an average team coming out of the fall, until we got to our fall world series. It was one of the most competitive situations I've ever seen, just inter-squad world series. After that, I was like 'I think we may have something here.' "
San Jacinto advanced to Friday at the JUCO World Series for the third straight year. Arrington said confidence is high in the Gators' dugout and his team battled through the loser's bracket.
"Very proud of the team for what they did today," Arrington said. "It's tough being down like we were. Gotta hand it to the other club. They put the pressure on us. We knew they were going to come out, move some guys around, place some bunts and they certainly did."