Last week as the College of Southern Nevada baseball team was preparing to climb aboard the 3:10 to Yuma, Arizona, for the Western District playoffs, it was decided that if the chips were down early, at least the Coyotes knew how to pick them up again.
This was after CSN had gotten boat-raced 17-3 in the first game of the Region 18 tournament on its home field before battling all the way back to tarnish the reputation of the loser’s bracket.
It also was decided the competition would be much tougher in Yuma. CSN’s first game was against Central Arizona, a team it lost to 12-0, also at home, in April.
At least this time the Coyotes were in the game for seven innings.
After nine innings, it was another boat race. CSN lost 15-5.
Did anybody really believe the team could mount another charge through another loser’s bracket and earn a third trip to the JUCO World Series in Grand Junction, Colorado? Or was that just a storyline and a trite cliche? When the going gets tough, the tough get going. We had ‘em right where we wanted ‘em. That type of thing.
The Coyotes got going. They howled at the moon, or at least at the bright Arizona sun. They took storylines and cliches and batted them around like fly balls off a fungo bat.
They had ‘em right where they wanted ‘em. They won four games in row to claim their first JUCO World Series berth in seven years. Their first game is Saturday morning.
“This @csncoyotes baseball team comes off the deck better than Rocky Balboa …”
That’s what was written on Twitter after CSN won the “when” game at Yuma. Alex Tisminezky, formerly of Bishop Gorman, pitched five innings of one-hit relief. Outfielder Blake Wiggins, an import from Arkansas, went 3-for-3 and scored five runs.
In the “when” game. With this gritty CSN bunch there’s no such thing as an “if” game.
Nick Garritano, the personable and pugnacious coach of the 45-16 Coyotes, said he would be taking his entire catalogue of “Rocky” DVDs to Grand Junction.
Will CSN have something left for Wabash Valley College of Mount Carmel, Ill., and the other JUCO Apollo Creeds and Clubber Langs and Ivan Dragos, when it opens play in the double-elimination marathon at 11 a.m. Saturday?
Garritano told his players he would prefer they not get boat-raced again on Saturday, or even lose 3-2. That would mean falling into the loser’s bracket straight away again. That would mean having to win six games in seven days to have their picture taken with the national championship banner a second time.
Remember when the Cubs overcame long odds to overhaul the Indians in last year’s World Series for big boys? That was three wins over four days.
Pitching at a premium
“For some reason this team is liking to not start off real fast,” Garritano, a former UNLV field goal kicker, told his players during a team meeting/pep rally at Morse Stadium in Henderson before getting on the bus for Colorado’s grand river valley.
“We’re gonna start off fast. But say we don’t start off fast. You have arms that haven’t thrown but seven or eight innings? You’re going to be asked to pitch on the biggest stage in junior college baseball.”
Some of the Coyotes stared straight ahead with solemn expressions. These were probably the guys who haven’t thrown but seven or eight innings.
Nothing to worry about, Garritano told the troops.
“I’m telling you right now, there’s something special about this group. There’s not a rock star. There’s a bunch of Average Joes. But this group has turned into one of the best teams CSN has ever seen. Because you play for each other.”
There are 29 names on the roster. Nineteen are from Southern Nevada. These are mostly local kids, with a sprinkling from out-of-state. These are kids who pick up a teammate, and a chip when it’s down.
They know baseball, and have a sense of what has been accomplished.
On the bus ride home from Yuma, it was pitcher Timmy Burtzloff who pointed out the Coyotes are 8-0 in postseason elimination games, and the last team that could say that was the 2004 Boston Red Sox.
It has been a season to remember, regardless of what occurs in Grand Junction. That’s a place where long odds occasionally are conquered and outrageous baseball dreams come true — where downtown there is a bronze statue of eccentric native son Dalton Trumbo, naked, writing Hollywood screenplays in a bathtub.
Contact Ron Kantowski at email@example.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.
JUCO World Series
May 26-June 3
Grand Junction, Colorado
— 8 a.m.: Cowley, Kansas vs. Wallace Dothan, Alabama
— 11 a.m.: College of Southern Nevada vs. Wabash Valley, Illinois
— 2 p.m.: Chipola, Florida vs. Crowder, Missouri
— 6:30 p.m.: Dyersburg State, Tennessee vs. San Jacinto, Texas
— 6: 30 p.m: Florence-Darlington, South Carolina vs. McLennan, Texas
— Live broadcast (all games): http://njcaatv.com/landing/index
— On the web: http://jucogj.org/