GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. — A second consecutive national championship was not in the cards for the Central Arizona College baseball team — not with the way McLennan (Texas) pitcher Logan Henderson was wheeling and dealing.
Henderson compiled 17 strikeouts in eight innings for the Highlanders, who defeated the Vaqueros 7-3 to win the NJCAA World Series on Friday night at Sam Suplizio Field. Henderson retired the last 15 batters he faced, 11 on strikeouts.
The right-hander allowed only two hits — a first-inning triple by JD McLaughlin and Kiko Romero’s leadoff home run in the fourth that gave Central (51-9) a 1-0 lead.
“We wanted to win the whole thing, but playing in the final game of the season — we can be proud of that,” CAC coach Anthony Gilich said. “We’re not hanging our heads by any means. I ask our guys for three things: to be good kids, play hard and care about what we’re doing. They did that all season long.”
The Vaqueros would have had to beat McLennan twice to claim the national title. But the Highlanders made sure there would be no Saturday night winner-take-all game by notching their 23rd straight victory. Leading 2-1 going into the bottom of the eighth, McLennan (47-16) scored five runs to put CAC down for the count.
Central tallied two unearned runs in the ninth off reliever Landry Wideman.
The Vaqueros were limited to four hits while striking out 20 times.
Dominic Tamez hit a leadoff homer in the fifth off CAC starter Shane Spencer to make it 1-1. Miguel Santos went deep with one out in the fifth to put McLennan ahead to stay.
Making his first career start at Central, Spencer pitched five solid innings. He gave up six hits, struck out four and did not issue a walk. Leo Palacios came on to hold the Highlanders scoreless in the sixth and seventh, allowing two hits while striking out two and walking one.
“It was a tall task to ask of Shane and he stepped up,” Gilich said. “He did a heck of job. And Leo got us two zeroes, which is what we needed.”
McLennan sent 10 batters to the plate in the eighth. Cristian Sanchez was lifted after hitting the leadoff batter and walking the next one. Tyler Woessner faced three batters, giving up a two-run triple to Tamez and back-to-back RBI doubles by Alex Lopez and Jaylen Williams.
Drew Sommers finally retired the side, but not before Williams came home on a throwing error.
Henderson departed after throwing one pitch — his 117th of the game — to begin the ninth. Dayton Dooney reached on an infield single with one out and pinch-hitter Tyler Griggs doubled with two outs. Both scored when a grounder by Jake Jarvis went through the legs of the second baseman.
Henderson struck out the side in the fourth and seventh innings and notched two strikeouts in five other frames. After walking Dusty Garcia and hitting Seth Beckstead in the second, Henderson retired 20 of the final 21 batters he faced.
“He was by far the best arm we’ve faced all year,” Gilich said. “It was tough to get anything going against him. He lived up to everything we’d heard about him.”
Gilich said Henderson had “incredible command” of his fastball, breaking ball and changeup and could throw any of those pitches at any point in the count.
Tamez went 4 for 4 for the Highlanders, who went 5-0 in the tournament. The national title was the second for McLennan, with the first coming in 1983. Blake Jackson and Lopez both had two of McLennan’s 12 hits.
Central was seeking its fourth World Series crown. The previous championships for Vaqueros, who went 3-2 in the tournament, came in 1976, 2002 and 2019. This was the second runner-up finish in program history; the Vaqueros also reached the championship round in 2011.