On Friday night, the College of Southern Nevada’s baseball team opened the 2017 season with a 7-4 victory over Yavapai College of Arizona, the defending national champions and top-ranked team in junior college baseball. Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals, whose No. 34 CSN jersey was hanging in homage on the outfield wall at Morse Stadium in Henderson, threw out the ceremonial first pitch.
It was one of the biggest wins in the 18-year history of the program.
The next day the Coyotes were routed 12-0 by Central Arizona in a game shortened to five innings by the mercy rule.
On Sunday during the eighth inning, a woman from Wyoming complained to CSN athletic director Dexter Irvin she couldn’t get a hot dog at one of the satellite sites hosting the Coyote Border Battle, and that music was not played between innings over the public address system.
That’s baseball in general, and junior college baseball in specific. It has a way of keeping one humble.
CSN was ranked No. 19 in the preseason poll. The Coyotes, with a roster comprised mostly of Southern Nevada players, also lost 8-5 to Arizona Western and defeated Gateway Community College of Phoenix 7-6. Gateway has another nice team, I’m told.
Coyotes coach Nick Garritano, the former UNLV field-goal kicker and Chaparral High School star starting his sixth season, said the goal in juco baseball is to win three of four every weekend. On opening weekend, his team would settle for two of four. Put an asterisk on it, he said, because like hot dogs at satellite sites, wins over the defending national champions right out of the box usually are hard to come by.
“Our kids were on top of the world,” Garritano said after the Coyotes hung on to edge Gateway on a sunny Sunday afternoon. “I honestly felt it affected us Saturday. When you do beat a No. 1 team, the defending national champions, sometimes it can do wonders. And sometimes it can sort of hurt you a little bit.”
Against Central Arizona, it apparently hurt the Coyotes a lot. “We ran into a buzz saw in Central Arizona — I haven’t seen a team pitch it like that and hit it like that for a while,” Garritano said.
But no way is CSN giving back that victory over the junior college Yankees.
“That was a goal of ours,” Garritano said about having circled Jan. 27 on his calendar, the day the Coyotes would meet the reigning champs and Bryce Harper would throw out the first pitch and deliver some of his old wooden bats for CSN to use.
“There’s not a lot of opportunities to play the defending national champion, the No. 1 team in the country. So for us to do that, to get a win, that was huge for our program.”
One of the rewards of trekking to Henderson for a CSN game is one gets to witness gobs of local kids play ball — 20 of this year’s 32 players are from Las Vegas, Henderson or Boulder City. After the game, Garritano assigns them tasks, most having to do with the upkeep of Morse Stadium. There are no free rides in junior college baseball. Everybody must drag the field, and collect baseballs in buckets, and make sure the fungo bat gets put away.
Another charm of the juco game is that it is a baseball box of chocolates. If Forrest Gump would have been running through the outfield Sunday, he might not have stopped until he reached Hoover Dam.
In the top of the seventh, the CSN catcher hurled the ball into center field when one of the Geckos tried to steal second base — on ball four. But CSN got out of the jam when the next batter fouled out to first base, and second baseman Dillon Johnson of Silverado High and shortstop Jay Martz of Liberty deked another Gecko into thinking the ball had been hit on the ground.
Baseball trickeration, deftly executed. Pitcher Blake Inoyue of Green Valley completed the ruse by sneaking behind the unwitting runner to cover first base. Pop fly double play. Inning over.
The end would come with a flurry that should have been set to the “1812 Overture.” Gateway scored four runs in the ninth before a fine throw from the outfield cut down the tying run. The runner had stumbled coming around third base, precipitating a mighty collision at home plate. Cue the cannons and the timpani.
“I thought he was safe,” Garritano said.
It was a spectacular way for a ballgame to end, Nick Garritano said. By then Bryce Harper was long gone, but one of the Coyotes was blowing dirt away from the dugouts with a leaf blower.