The Junior College Division I World Series will kick off tomorrow with 10 teams from across the country competing for the national championship. This marks the 54th consecutive year the games will be played at Sam Suplizio Field in Grand Junction, Colo., and the first year since the ballpark underwent an $8.3 million renovation.
"It is a great story for the community," tournament director Jamie Hamilton said. "Everybody here loves baseball with a passion. It's what we do."
The renovations will increase Suplizio Field's capacity to 7,234 and Hamilton expects over 130,000 people to attend the eight-day tournament. Team supporters and alumni will flock from around the country, but the bulk of those attending games are baseball-crazed locals.
"Fans have an opportunity to see the next superstar in the big leagues," Hamilton said.
Grand Junction may not sound like a destination for future major leaguers, but the many unheralded players who have competed there over the years could form quite an all-star lineup: Curt Schilling, Kirby Puckett, Cliff Lee, Travis Hafner, Eric Gagne, Adam Laroche, John Lackey, Brandon Belt and Bryce Harper.
"In all the 25 years that I have been on the tournament committee, Bryce Harper was the first one we ever heard about before," stated Hamilton.
With the draft just two weeks away, the World Series also gives talent evaluators one last look at players before the draft.
"We have a fairly good indication that between 20 to 30 major league scouts will attend, and most of those are crosscheckers," Hamilton said.
The double-elimination tournament begins Saturday at 9 a.m. with Iowa Western CC facing San Jacinto College. The tournament field features a blend of fresh faces and old friends to long-time World Series fans. Polk State, Cisco College, and Gordon College are making their first World Series appearances, while regulars San Jacinto and Iowa Western have combined to make 31 World Series appearances.
"This is a great event and is a first-class event all around and makes the players feel like they are big leaguers for a week." Western Nevada head coach DJ Whittemore said.
Below is a look at the participants.
Iowa Western CC
Iowa Western CC enters the World Series as the top overall seed with a 57-5 record. The Reivers are a perennial power that has advanced to Grand Junction six of the last seven seasons. Iowa Western won World Series in 2010 and placed third in 2011.
Entering 2012, Iowa Western once again had championship aspirations as the Reivers returned 14 players and seven regulars from last year's team. In the preseason NJCAA Division I Baseball poll, Iowa Western ranked fourth and has topped the last five polls.
Coach Marc Radin and his club's experience will be an asset against their inexperienced opponents. In his 10 seasons at Iowa Western, Radin has a .761 winning percentage and has won eight straight Iowa Community College Athletic Conference championships.
"Coach Mark Radin understands how to avoid his teams having the dear in the headlights look in front of big crowds and under the bright lights. He prepares his team well," Hamilton said.
Iowa Western emerged from districts and regionals by outscoring their opponents 90-30 in seven tournament games. The Reivers have dominated opponents with a potent offensive attack that averaged over 10 runs a game. The Northern District representative led the nation in team batting average (.412) and on-base percentage (.481). The Reivers have outscored their opponents by 448 runs.
The pitching staff has stifled opponents with a 3.57 ERA, averaging nearly a strikeout an inning. The staff is led by righthanders Jake Thompson and Tanner Krietemeier. The 6-foot-3 Thompson has won 18 games over two and is eligible for the draft.
Infielder/righthander Damek Tomscha, an Auburn recruit, won the region's player of the year honors with a .438 average, a team-leading 15 home runs (seventh-most in the nation), and 64 RBIs. Tomscha also has a low-90s fastball on the mound and has been drafted twice.
Three of the eight best batting averages in all of JUCO baseball belonged to Iowa Western players. Catcher Levi Meyer finished second with a .481 batting average, followed by infielder Sam Bumers at .455 (7th) and OF Brett Bass at .454 (8th).
After a decade hiatus, Jefferson College returned to the World Series last season but failed to win a game. Coach Sam Carel has used last year's finish as motivation for this year's veteran squad. Jefferson placed 13th in the preseason polls and fell from the top 20 for only one week to finish the year ranked second. The Vikings enter the World Series with as the second seed and a 51-10 record after winning the South Central region and their sixth straight conference title.
Jefferson College advanced to the World Series on the strength of its strong offense and a trio of pitchers. The Vikings averaged close to eight runs a game as the offense registered a .342 batting average and .452 on-base percentage. OF Brandon Neel was seventh in the nation with 15 home runs and 6-foot-5 infielder Fred Ford clubbed 13 homers to go with 68 RBIs and 32 stolen bases.
Few teams have three quality arms like Jefferson. Lefthander Dalton Friend missed last season due to shoulder surgery but bounced back this year to win 11 games and strike out 13 batters per nine innings. Fellow lefthander Dane Gronewald, a Missouri commit, is an intimidating presence on the mound at 6-foot-6, 235 pounds. The Missouri native attacks hitters with a high-80s sinker that can exceed 90 mph. Gronewald was a 47th-round pick of the Braves last year and has a 1.13 ERA this season but has battled command issues. Righthander Tyler Thompson tied Friend with 11 wins, the sixth-most in the country, and had a 2.13 ERA.
The Vikings open with Cisco College on Saturday.
Polk State College
In 2011, first-year Head Coach Al Corbeil led Polk State to one of its best seasons in school history. Corbeil's team compiled a 43-12 record and advanced to the state championship game, but was ousted by Florida's preeminent junior college program, Chipola.
"We have a good of crew guys that made it to the state championship last year and realized what it was all about and that helped us get over the hill this year," Corbeil said.
The 45-10 Eagles team is built on pitching, speed, and defense. Righthander Alec Asher won 12 games, third-most in the nation, with a 1.39 ERA and struck out 113. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Asher is ranked in Baseball America's Top 200 prospects for the 2012 draft. The sophomore sits 90-94-mph with his fastball and has been up to 97-mph this spring.
"What always has you most worried is the guy you are facing on the mound and in this case it looks like we might be facing the best pitcher in the country," Western Nevada coach D.J. Whittemore said.
Beyond Asher, the Eagles have a deep and talented pitching staff. Lefthander Brian Johnson 13 wins over his two seasons and compliments an 86-90-mph fastball with a good curveball. Closer Noah Reed has saved 17 games in two seasons and lefthander Steve Burnham finished the regular season with a 1.66 ERA.
The Eagles enter the World Series hitting .296/.392/.401 and averaging nearly seven runs per game. Center fielder Conor Szczerba, the 2012 Suncoast Conference player of the year stole 39 bases this season.
Outfielder Michael Danner is the main source of power for Polk State as Corbeil's crew hit only 24 home runs on the year. Danner led the team with 10.
Polk State enters its first-ever World Series as the number three seed and will play Western Nevada on Saturday.
The Southwest region is the one of the toughest in the nation because many of the top junior college programs in the country reside in the Texas. Since Cisco College's inception in the 1940s, the baseball team has never advanced to the World Series. After finishing under .500 in 2011, there was little reason to believe 2012 could be the Wranglers' first visit to Grand Junction. But the Wranglers' had their best season ever under eighth-year coach David White with a 48-13 record.
In the Southwest District Championship game Cisco defeated Howard College, the seventh ranked team in the country and favorite to emerge from the region. Howard won the 2009 World Series and has three pitchers—righthanders Reid Scroggins and Clayton Crum and lefthander Logan Ehlers—ranked among Baseball America's Top 300 draft prospects.
The Wranglers enter the World Series with a 3.42 ERA. Righthander Corey Taylor is the staff ace with an 11-1, 1.39 record. Closer Heath Herrington has 32 strikeouts in 18 innings to go with a 0.42 ERA and nine saves.
The Wranglers hit .354 and averaged 5.7 runs per game. Cisco's offense is led by infielder Jake Armstrong, catcher Alvaro Moreno and outfielder Rustin Thomas. Armstrong won conference player of the year honors and hit .446 with six home runs and 50 RBIs.
Cisco College will face Jefferson College on Saturday evening.
Neosho County (Kansas) CC
Coming off a school-record 46 wins in 2011, Neosho County had its best season in school history. The Panthers reached the World Series because of their excellent pitching (1.86 ERA) and two of the best players in the country (lefthander Matt Strahm and first baseman/righthander Adam Giacalone). Each of the team's top four starting pitchers has an ERA below 1.89.
Strahm, a Fargo, N.D. native, led the nation with 124 strikeouts against just 22 walks. The 6-foot-3 170-pounder throws a low-90s fastball and darting slider. Righthanders Chance Sinclair, Daniel Peterson, and Adam Giacalone, combined with Strahm to win 33 games. Sinclair and Peterson are command-and-control pitchers who limit walks and compete on the mound.
At the end of games, opponents should expect to see 5-foot-11 righthander Max Ising, who set the school's single-season save record with 10 and has 39 strikeouts in 26 innings.
The Panthers hit .305/.398/.443 as a team and averaged 5.4 runs per game. provided by the offense is sufficient for the team's outstanding pitching staff. Giacalone, the two-time Jayhawk Conference player of the year, was the best two-way player in the country. On the mound, he was the Panthers' No. 2 starter and registered eights wins, a 1.72 ERA and 85 strikeouts in 89 innings. Although he possesses a quality arm, Giacalone made his mark with the bat by hitting .407/.537/.785 with 12 home runs.
Freshman shorstop David Bote had a stellar year at the plate by hitting .420/481/.628. He was also proficient on the bases, stealing 20 bags in 21 attempts.
Neosho will face Spartanburg Methodist College on Saturday.
Western Nevada College
Western Nevada turned in its fourth straight 40-win campaign as the No. 6 seed Wildcats finished 47-15 and spent all but one week ranked in the top 20. The Wildcats previously made World Series appearances in 2007 and 2009.
"Our sleeper is going to be Western Nevada because they beat Salt Lake CC, which is a wood bat region, and was close to number one all year and we really thought they had the club to get here this year," Hamilton said.
Righthander Dylan Baker, a potential second-round draft pick, has one of the nation's best two-pitch mixes in a low-to-mid 90s fastball and an above-average slider. The 6-foot-3 Alaskan went 12-0 this season and struck out 14.1 hitters per nine innings. Western Nevada's first-round matchup with Polk State and righthander Alec Asher will feature two of the best arms in the country and should provide scouts and cross-checkers with one last opportunity to see these premier talents.
"Baker is the guy that I'm hearing buzz about," Hamilton said.
Coach DJ Whittemore is going to deploy Baker in an unexpected way.
"Dylan is going to close Game One," Whittemore said. "We are going to play Game One like it is Game Seven of the World Series. We just want to make sure we have the ball in the best guy's hands at the end of the game."
Whittemore has elected to start 5-foot-10 sophomore righthander Andrew Woeck, who went 7-2, 1.42 with 81 strikeouts and 21 walks in 63 innings this season. He has a commitment to N.C. State. Sophomore closer Tyler Spencer possesses a low-90s fastball and will be vital to the Wildcats' World Series run.
Western Nevada's offense hit .311/.413/.493 on its way to scoring over seven runs a game. First baseman/lefthander Derrick Pitts hit .286/.451/.521 and led the team in on-base percentage, slugging percentage, home runs, and RBIs. First baseman Mike Umschied led the team with a .356 batting average.
Western Neavada begins play against Polk State Saturday afternoon.
Spartanburg Methodist College
Spartanburg Methodist College is no stranger to the bright lights of Sam Suplizio Field, as the Eastern region representative is set to make its fifth trip to Grand Junction since 2000. The school has had a strong baseball program for decades and its baseball alumni include Reggie Sanders, Orlando Hudson and Mookie Wilson. Spartanburg Methodist last appeared in the World Series in 2009. Coach Tim Wallace, completing his 21st season at the helm, leads the Pioneers into the World Series as the seventh seed with a 45-16 record.
The Pioneers are a well-balanced club that has both good hitting (.319/.405/.386) and pitching (2.95 ERA). Infielder Bruce Campbell packs a lot of power into his 5-foot-10, 184-pound frame and led the Pioneers in most offensive categories, batting.444/.520/.829 with 15 home runs, 66 RBIs, and 15 steals. Outfielder David Donald hit. 399/.497/.790 with 10 home runs and 53 RBIs. Sophomore infielder Will Leathers hit .368/.447/.537.
While Spartanburg Methodist has depth across the pitching staff, the team lacks a surefire ace. Lefthander Jimmy Lindberg leads the starters with a 1.68 ERA and righthander Alex Pridemore and his 1.98 ERA could see crunch-time innings. Righthander Jonathan Pulley was expected to anchor the rotation, but the freshman has struggled this season and has a 4.12 ERA. Relievers Hunter Rice and Tyler Wilson offer strikeout potential.
Spartanburg Methodist will open with Neosho County on Saturday.
San Jacinto College
San Jacinto College is a luminary in the junior college baseball landscape. Under former head coach Wayne Graham, now Rice's current head coach, San Jacinto won five of six World Series from 1985-1990. San Jacinto has had 28 players selected in the past four drafts. Notable San Jacinto alumni include Brandon Belt, Mike Gonzalez, and Nick Stavinoha.
Considering the program's pedigree, the Gators had a poor regular season and did not enter the regional tournament as a top seed. In the tournament's opening game, San Jacinto secured a 5-4 victory over in 13 innings over Paris JC and then took down defending national champion Navarro College with a 7-6 win in 12 innings. Those first two extra-inning games seem mild in comparison to the third game, when San Jacinto ended a scoreless affair with Galveston College by plating three runs in the 17th inning and moving on to the regional championship against Navarro. San Jacinto ended Navarro's chances of repeating as national champions with a 1-0 victory.
San Jacinto is the definition of a pitching-oriented team. The Gators' offense is merely average but the pitching staff is stellar. Collectively, the Gators sport a 2.41 ERA and average 8.8 strikeouts-per-nine innings. True to their history, the Gators should have a handful of pitchers drafted, including righthander Jacob Stone and lefthander Daniel Stumpf.
In the regional tournament, Stumpf demonstrated his determination by notching wins, including a shutout in the tournament-clinching game against Navarro. On the season, Stumpf ranked up 108 strikeouts in 111 innings and an 8-2 record. The 6-foot-2, 198-pound Stumpf is expected to go in the first 15 rounds of the draft. His fastball sits at 88-91-mph and can touch 94 and compliments his heater with a slider and changeup.
The rotation's top three starters, Stumpf and lefthanders AJ Glasshof and Anthony Banda combined to pitch 74 percent of San Jacinto's innings. Banda, a 33rd-round pick of the Diamondbacks last June, produced a 2.01 ERA and struck out more than a hitter an inning. Glasshof tied with Stumpf for the team led in wins with eight and produced a 1.93 ERA.
When head coach Tom Arrington elects to use his bullpen he will have plenty of quality candidates to choose from as righthanders Skylar Janisse, Kyle Chaskin and Efren Garcia each had strong seasons.
On offense, San Jacinto averages just over five runs a game and is hitting .272/.370/.345 with a total of 14 home runs. Outfielders Reggie Wilson and Justin Byrd are the offense's catalysts as they have the two best on-base and slugging percentages and have combined to steal 42 bases.
San Jacinto will play Iowa Western on Saturday.
Shelton State CC
Shelton State's three trips to Grand Junction came from 2007-2009. When Shelton State (38-21) last made the World Series in 2009, current Cubs righthander Trey McNutt sat atop the rotation. Coach Bobby Sprowl led the Highlanders through the tough southwest region and beat Central Alabama CC, who was ranked third in the country, on their way to punching their ticket to Grand Junction.
This upstart Shelton State team has reached Grand Junction through timely hitting and above-average pitching. The Highlanders hit .310/.390/.369 and averaged 5.5 runs per game—despite hitting just six home runs on the season. Infielder J.C. Wilhite is the best hitter on the squad and led the team in all every triple-slash category at .402/.458/.460. Infielder Jake Vickerson hit .381/.452/.428 and showed a disciplined approach with 30 walks against 15 strikeouts.
The Highlanders compiled a 3.24 ERA and were led by sophomore Alex Milazzo, a 6-foot-3, 185-pound righthander who posted a 1.34 ERA. In tight late-game situations, Sprowl will likely call on sophomore Colton Henderson, who posted a 0.98 ERA in 27 innings.
Shelton State will play Gordon College on Saturday evening.
The city of Barnesville, Ga., and its population of fewer than 7,000 people will send Gordon College to its first World Series in school history. After failing to reaching the regional tournament in 2011, Gordon emerged from the East Central region by beating Walter State CC, the sixth-ranked team in the country.
"Gordon is pretty interesting, we have never heard of them before in Grand Junction. They are coming in very excited," Hamilton said.
The No. 10-seed Buccaneers enter Grand Junction with a 36-23 record and will face an uphill battle.
The Buccaneers have averaged 6.4 runs a game, but have struggled to prevent opposing teams from scoring. Gordon is hitting .292/.391/.426 on the season. Freshman infielder Devin Bonin (5-foot-8, 160 pounds) leads the team with nine home runs and 51 runs scored. No other Buccaneer has more than three homers. Bonin is also second on the team in steals with nine and has drawn more walks than strikeouts.
Standing 6-foot-1 and 263 pounds, Bobby Woodall's body portends power and he leads the team in every slash category at .394/.458/.543. Freshman infielder Michael Stemle stole 34 of Gordon's 54 bases on the season.
Buccaneers pitchers allowed just 12 runs in three games in the district tournament but posted a 4.19 ERA during the regular season. Only Closer Zach Smith has struck out more than a hitter per inning. Lefthander Kenny Anderson leads the team with a 2.45 ERA and 67 strikeouts Smith has seven saves on the season and the team's second-best earned run average at 3.21.
The Buccaneers will play Shelton State on Saturday evening.