It’s Miller Time for Wildcats
By Charles Whisnand
Appeal Sports Editor
GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. – It’s about noon right now on the Cinderella clock for the Western Nevada Community College baseball team at the JUCO World Series.
While there’s still a long way to go the Wildcats are beginning to look like a Cinderella story in the making. The Wildcats, only in their second year of the program, took another step to making this Cinderella story come true with an 8-4 win over New Mexico Junior College, the nation’s No. 1 team, on Monday at Suplizio Field.
You’ve heard of the Cinderella Man. Four more wins and the Wildcats become the latest Cinderella team. But another huge hurdle is ahead of them tonight when WNCC (41-22-2, 2-0 in the tournament) faces San Jacinto College of Texas in a winner’s bracket game at 6:30 p.m.
Thomas Miller’s grand slam home run gave WNCC a 5-1 lead, the Wildcats went on to lead 8-1 and held on for the win. Justin Garcia gave WNCC a solid 5.2 innings and Dan Grubbs was outstanding again, finishing up with 3.2 scoreless innings. Grubbs has now thrown four scoreless innings in two World Series appearances.
And Grubbs achieved his most important goal – keeping Stephen Sauer out of the game. Sauer will be the starting pitching tonight against San Jacinto.
Sauer pitched the ninth inning in WNCC’s 2-0 win over Delgado Community College in the Wildcats’ opener to pick up the save on Saturday. But the outing was just the equivalent of a bullpen session as Sauer barely broke a sweat. “I’m ready to go,” Sauer said.
Grubbs was also ready to go against New Mexico, especially after he faltered against that team early in the y ear. Grubbs let a 5-2 lead go as New Mexico came back to force a 5-5 tie.
“That was probably the worst I pitched all year,” Grubbs said. “I was horrible. I couldn’t hit a spot. I want wanted to show them what I could do.”
But Grubbs was also well aware what he did for the team. “It was really important,” said Grubbs about keeping Sauer out of the game. “He’s been our game three starter all year. We need him to pitch tomorrow. It was a big thing to keep him off the mound today.”
Even though WNCC lost to New Mexico 2-1 and tied 5-5, Whittemore said playing with that team on even terms gave his club confidence going into Monday.
Garcia began the game by allowing two hits, giving New Mexico runners at first and third with one out. But Garcia allowed just one run in the inning and held the Thunderbirds scoreless for the next four innings.
In a minor surprise, Adam Kramer started for New Mexico instead of Matt Speake. Kramer, though, also came into the game with outstandinng stats, going 6-0 with a 2.01 earned run average. And Kramer had thrown just 44.2 innings this year, so New Mexico evidently felt he would be the fresher pitcher.
But Kramer struggled with his control in the second and third innings. In the second, he hit Logan Parsley and walked Andrew Ferguson. The two runners moved up to second and third with two outs on a hit and run. Anthony Garcia sent a shot to the hole on the left side and shortstop Christian Figueroa made a diving stop to rob Garcia of a two-run hit.
Garcia did reach on an RBI infield single. Ferguson tried to score all the way from secnod on the play, but was thrown out to end the inning.
In the third, Kyle Bondurant singled and then came what could have been the key at bat of the game after Bondurant was balked to second. Cliff Shepard fouled off several pitches with two strikes before hitting a flyball that sent Bondurant to third. Andrew Reid was hit by a pitch and Brad Carlsen was hit by a pitch, the fourth batter hit by Kramer, to load the bases. Miller followed with his grand slam to make the score 5-1.
WNCC took an 8-1 lead in the sixth when Ferguson tripled and scored on Taylor Mieras’ safety squeeze, which chased Kramer. Pat Grennan followed with an RBI single and went to third on an error on the play. Bondurant then hit an RBI single to make it 8-1.
New Mexico fought back against Garcia in the sixth. Brian Cavazos-Galvez hit a home run and with two outs, Coty Wilson hit a two-run double, making it 8-4 and chasing Garcia. But Grubbs came in and closed the door.
Even though Garcia went over the 100 inning mark for the season, he said fatigue wasn’t a factor. He admitted the 90-degree heat may have been.
“I felt good out there,” Garcia said. “The heat got to me a little bit, but I basically felt pretty good.”
Beside, Garcia did his job to get the ball to Grubbs. “Any time I get the game to Grubbs, that’s always a good thing,” Garcia said.
Whittemore also said he didn’t believe fatigue was a factor with Garcia. “I don’t think so,” Whittemore said. “I just thnk they’re a good hitting team.”
Garcia threw only 81 pitches and said he cold come back as soon as Thursday if needed. It’s more likely that Garcia wouldn’t come back until Friday or Saturday. Whittemore said much will depend on how the tournament goes and when Cole Rohrbough will pitch again.
But Whittemore wouldn’t rule out Garcia coming back as soon as Thursday. “His arm bounces back quickly,” Whittemore said.
Bondurant and Parsley each had two hits and and Reid added a hit for WNCC.