When the season was just getting started, a visit was made to Nick Garritano’s office to check on the College of Southern Nevada baseball team he coaches, and to see how many local players were on this year’s roster. His desk was tidy and manicured, in the manner of Yankee Stadium on Opening Day.
There was the miniature baseball glove he uses to hold his business cards, and then nothing but unfettered desktop.
Now, with the junior college playoffs in full swing, a hot dog wrapper would have trouble finding a place to land.
Garritano, who was UNLV’s field-goal kicker before he was baseball coach at Green Valley and CSN, has arranged the clutter on his desk into neat, or at least semi-neat, piles. On top of one was the bracket for the NJCAA Western District Playoffs that begin Thursday in arid Yuma, Arizona.
Last week at this time, that particular sheet of paper was a long way from the top of the pile.
The ladder to winning the NJCAA World Series in Grand Junction, Colorado, consists of three rungs. The first is the Region 18 championships, which CSN hosted last weekend.
In their first game of the postseason, the Coyotes lost 17-3 to Colorado Northwestern.
CSN’s nickname was not inspired by Wile E. Coyote. But this was like the sad sack coyote from the cartoons stepping on the first rung of the ladder, only to have it snap in two and the Acme Ladder Company come crashing down on his head.
“We were the one seed, we won the league for the third time in four years … and before you know it, we wind up losing the opening-round game, 17-3,” Garritano said as the Coyotes were getting ready to jump on the 3:10 to Yuma. “We got punched. We got punched hard.”
But the Coyotes punched back just as hard. They beat Southern Idaho, 15-2. They beat Colorado Northwestern in a rematch, 6-4. They beat Salt Lake Community College, 3-2. They beat Salt Lake in the “if” game, 10-2, to punch their ticket to Yuma, which in junior college baseball is a good thing.
The team bus wouldn’t be leaving at 3:10, like the train in the movies. It left early Wednesday long before Russell Crowe and Christian Bale got out of bed.
“The kids showed great resolve and character and fight,” said Garritano, who has coached CSN to a 252-137 record in seven years. “They had to fight back through, and they had to win four games, and sure enough they did.”
Three wins away
So now CSN needs three victories to make it all the way back to Grand Junction, where the Coyotes, who have 19 local players of 29 on the roster, won it all in 2003.
It will be a tough row to hoe, and not just because the terrain around Yuma is impenetrable with about six layers of dust on top. Garritano says CSN doesn’t have a dominant pitcher this season, a major league prospect such as Phil Bickford, who struck out a school-record 166 batters in 2015 and was drafted in the first round by the San Francisco Giants.
Instead, what he has is a gritty team that knows it can bounce back from a 17-3 thrashing, a team that knows it can battle back through a losers’ bracket, if that is what is required.
“This group is very battle tested. They’ve played a lot of close games; they played (from) behind a lot this year,” Garritano said of this current pack of Coyotes, 41-15 and No. 11 in the national rankings released Tuesday. “It doesn’t have a lot of power up and down the lineup; there’s not a huge strikeout leader like two years ago when Phil struck out 166 guys, but what this team has is a ton of fight.”
Garritano says they might need all the pounds of fight that can fit in the back of the team bus, because the Coyotes lost 12-0 to Central Arizona, their first-round opponent in Yuma, and also were beaten 8-5 by district host Arizona Western. But those defeats came in a season-opening tournament, back when Nick Garritano’s desktop was visible and the road to Grand Junction seemed a million miles away.
Contact Ron Kantowski at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.