GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. — Being the No. 6 seed in the NJCAA World Series has one weird benefit for the Central Arizona College baseball team.
Instead of being lumped into Saturday’s four-game marathon of opening-round contests, the Vaqueros won’t have to wait around to face Cowley, Kansas, when the first round concludes with Sunday’s 9 a.m. (Arizona time) matchup.
CAC (48-7) is the defending national champion due to the 2020 World Series being shelved because of the coronavirus pandemic. Coach Anthony Gilich said each school in the 10-team field is capable of heading home with the title trophy.
“It’s tough any way you draw it,” he said. “The big challenge is not to get overwhelmed by the moment. Once you get settled in, it’s just baseball.”
The tournament — which has a maximum of 19 games — will be played at Sam Suplizio Field (capacity 10,000 and home of the NJCAA World Series since 1958).
Having the opportunity to see every potential opponent in advance except fifth-seeded Cowley (46-8) could help Central’s cause, although not too much.
“You try to get the important stuff, but we’re not going to change what we do,” Gilich said.
Win or lose, the Vaqueros next play on Tuesday. They would not have another day off until the tournament concludes June 4 or June 5.
The Vaqueros went 31-0 to start the season and were 2-0 in postseason play until being swept 2-0 by Yavapai in the Region 1 title series. They still qualified for the Western District tournament, where they regained their footing by going 3-0 while walloping 15 homers and racking up a 50-15 advantage in runs scored.
Using metal bats for the first time in those three games definitely played a factor, as did short fences and out-blowing winds.
Gilich said none of the other nine teams in the national tourney used wood during the regular season. The Arizona Community College Athletic Conference is a wood-bat league.
“All the teams we’ve played have prepared us,” Gilich said. ”I think we play in the toughest conference in the country.”
The strategy for Central in the World Series, as Gilich explained it, basically is the baseball mantra.
First: “The pitchers need to hunt strikeouts,” which means the fewer balls that are put into play, the less chance for something bad to happen.
Second: “The defense can’t give up extra runs.”
Third: “Our offense needs to put as many balls in play as possible.”
CAC enters the tournament with a collective .321 batting average and is scoring 9.7 runs per game. Pitchers have a collective ERA of 3.48 and have held opponents to a .221 batting average. The team’s fielding percentage is .963.
The Vaqueros have plenty of pop individually. Each of the nine in the projected lineup are batting above .300, and all are dangerous in their various ways when coming to the plate. Heading the list are all-ACCAC first-team selections JD McLaughlin, who plays left field, (.354, 59 RBIs, 12 home runs), second baseman Dayton Dooney (.356, 56 RBIs, nine homers) and first baseman Kiko Romero (.316, 53 RBIs, eight homers).
Named to the all-ACCAC second team were center fielder Dusty Garcia (.324, nine homers), designated hitter Preston Godfrey (.307, six homers) and Seth Beckstead (.294, seven homers). Rounding out the lineup are right fielder Jake Jarvis (.340), shortstop Devon Dixon (.344) and third baseman Tyler Griggs (team-high .375 batting average).
It probably would not be prudent to run against catchers Beckstead and Ryan Grabosch. Beckstead has nailed 12 of 13 on attempted steals and Grabosch is 12 for 15.
CAC’s top three starters are ACCAC pitcher of the year Mat Olsen (11-0, 1.87 ERA, 124 strikeouts in 81 2/3 innings), Hunter Omlid (13-0, 2.98 ERA) and Tyler Woessner (8-1). Liam Evans and Daniel Davila likely will see action as either a starter or a reliever.
The bullpen stalwarts include DJ Carpenter (2.08 ERA), Drew Sommers (3.16, team-best five saves), Leo Palacios (3.31, 34 strikeouts in 16 1/3 innings), Shane Spencer and Cristian Sanchez.
The matchups in the other first-round games are No. 1 Crowder, Missouri (52-6) vs. No. 10 Indian Hills, Iowa (43-14); No. 2 Walters State, Tennessee (60-5) vs. No. 9 Shelton State, Alabama (39-15); No. 3 San Jacinto-North, Texas (48-13) vs. No. 8 Miami Dade, Florida (36-17); and No. 4 McLennan, Texas (42-16) vs. No. 7 Florence-Darlington, South Carolina (46-6).