2nd-seeded Bears complete Region I Finals sweep with 7-5 win over Mesa-thanks to 8th-inning comeback Friday
Phoenix, Arizona – May 12, 2017 -- Phoenix College is proud to announce that the PC Baseball team has captured the Region I Division II Baseball Championship. The 2nd-seeded Bears officially secured the Region I title with a thrilling, come-from-behind 7-5 victory Friday over the top-seeded Mesa Thunderbirds to sweep the series, 2 games to none, at Mesa Community College Friday afternoon. The win secures the Bears’ first trip to the 2017 NJCAA Division II Baseball College World Series in Enid, Oklahoma, since the 2008 season. The Bears will seek their 4th NJCAA Baseball national title in the program’s history, and their first since 1965.
After a very disappointing 19-36 season a year ago, expectations weren’t high for the program’s success in 2017-at least outside of the program itself. After tirelessly working to overhaul the pitching staff that allowed the most walks in the nation a year ago while also fortifying his defense around the staff, Bears’ Head Baseball Coach Kevin Kimball and his coaches were quietly optimistic about the teams’ potential. It didn’t take long to for that optimism to take shape in the form of a powerful offense and a starting pitching rotation that stared adversity in the face all year long and vanquished it. The Bears sprinted to the top of the ACCAC Baseball Standings toward the end of February, and remained there for the better part of a month. Undeterred by a midseason 6-game losing streak, the Bears rebounded enough to finish the regular season 3rd-best in the conference overall, and just a game behind Mesa in the race for the top seed in the Region I DII Playoffs. The Bears took full advantage of being able to host their first playoff series in a decade by jumping on 3rd-seeded Paradise Valley with nine runs in the very first inning of the Region I Semifinals last week, breezing to a seven-inning, 12-0 mercy-rule victory. And after faltering in a 5-1 Game 2 loss to force a 3rd and deciding game last Saturday, Chris Douglas’ finest pitching performance of his two-year career (8 2/3 innings) helped down the Pumas, 8-1, in Game 3.
That win sent the Bears to their 2nd Region I Finals in the last 3 years, but also sent them to a place-Mesa Community College’s Baseball Field-where they’d lost eight of their last 9 regular season outings. That never seemed to matter in this series, since in Game 1 Thursday, the Bears took a 6-0 lead with 3 home runs in 3 successive innings, and never looked back as for the 2nd straight series, mercy-ruled their opponents in seven innings in a 13-2 Game 1 rout. Game 2 started out much differently, however. Mesa starting pitcher Nick Bonniksen allowed few scoring opportunities over the first 5 innings, giving the Thunderbirds a chance to build a 5-0 lead. The 6th inning would prove to be the turning point, though, since after Bonniksen retired the first 2 hitters to face him, Joe Velarde (Valley Vista HS) and Casey Dunlap hit back-to-back singles to set the table for Anthony Williams, who cranked his 2nd home run of the series (and 5th overall) to close the Bears’ deficit to 5-3. The score remained the same until the 8th when with 1 out, Mesa closer Jake Suddreth put both Ben Aklinski (Greenway HS) and Velarde on base by plunking them with pitches. Dunlap then singled Aklinski home to bring the Bears within a run. After a walk to Williams, Suddreth struck out the Bears’ Max Johnson for the 2nd out, but a ground ball off the bat of Christian Stone got away from Mesa shortstop Esteban Martinez, allowing both Velarde and Dunlap to score. That proved to be the game-winning play, since after Tyler Phillips’ RBI single added an insurance run to end the 8th-inning scoring, Bears’ reliever Bryce Johnson (Centennial HS) would take over, working out of 8th-inning and 9th-inning jams. Johnson got Martinez to fly out to center to end the Mesa scoring threat in the 8th; and in the bottom of the 9th, after Mesa’s Garrett Smith and Marcus Skundrich got on base to lead off the inning, Kelby Richardson grounded into a 6-3 double play, and Joshua Brown hit a grounder to 1st base with 2 out. After Phillips flipped the ball to a covering Johnson to step on the bag for the final out, the euphoria of the Bears’ first Region I title in 9 years enveloped the team. Dunlap, Phillips and Velarde led the way for the Bears (41-20 overall, 25-15 ACCAC) with a pair of hits each, and on the mound, Johnson picked up his 3rd save with 2 strong innings to secure the win for reliever Grant Smith (2-1) (Millennium HS), who fired 4 2/3 innings of 3-hit ball. Suddreth took the loss (3-2), allowing 4 runs (3 unearned) over 2 innings. Williams was named the Region I Finals Most Valuable Player. The win also broke a 25-year-old program record, since it set a new mark for the 96-year-old program for wins in a single season, breaking the record of 40 wins set by the 1992 Bears. The Thunderbirds finish at 43-18 overall and 26-14 in ACCAC play.
The Bears now head to Enid, Oklahoma, for the first time ever, and will make their first appearance at the NJCAA Division II Baseball World Series since the 2008 season. The Bears will be seeking their first national title in 42 years and their 4th title overall (the other titles coming in 1960, 1962 and 1965 (the last two championship teams coached by PC Hall of Famer Martin “Pug” Marich). The 2017 NJCAA Division II Baseball World Series will commence on Saturday, May 27th. Details on opponents, dates and times for the Bears’ early-round games will be available on the brand-new PC athletic website (athletics.phoenixcollege.edu) within the next 10 days.