First national tournament appearance in nine years yields highest national finish since 2001
Phoenix, Arizona – May 30, 2017 – In a game that saw them get outhit for the only time in their four games at the 2017 National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Division II Baseball World Series, the 5th-seeded Phoenix College Bears were defeated by 8th-seeded Lansing Community College, 13-2, in 7 innings Tuesday. The win sends the Stars to the semifinal round of the tournament at David Allen Memorial Ballpark in Enid, Oklahoma, while the loss eliminates the Bears, but sealed their 6th-place finish in the tournament, their best national finish since 2001.
Since it was the Bears’ first national tournament appearance in nine years, it was impossible for Bears’ Head Baseball Coach Kevin Kimball to predict which of his team’s various strengths, offense or pitching, would come to the forefront in Enid. It didn’t take long to figure out that-just like the performances of the other nine teams in the tournament-it would be all about the offense. In fact, every one of the first 12 games over the first 3 days of the tournament required the winning team to score 8 runs or more to advance. The Bears fit nicely into that equation, since they entered Tuesday’s elimination-round game with Lansing averaging 10 runs and 14 hits in each of their first 3 games. Unfortunately, Day 4 of action would see the Bears’ bats go quiet against Lansing starting pitcher Cam Fewless. Despite the fact that Fewless had only gone 6 innings or more once during his freshman year, the righthander kept the Bears off-balance most of the day. Meanwhile, the Stars’ bats started out with 3 hits in the first inning, and never cooled down against four Bears’ pitchers. The Stars used those 3 hits to score the first run of the game, and added a run on two hits in the next inning to take a 2-0 lead heading to the 3rd.
That was where the Bears got on the board, yet set an ominous tone, since they did it without a hit. Jared Nelson led off the inning with a walk, got to 2nd base on a passed ball, then scored on fly balls to deep right field by both Nick Guaragna (Chaparral HS) and Ben Aklinski (Greenway HS) to cut the deficit to 2-1. They would get no closer as the Stars broke the game open in the 4th, sending 8 hitters to the plate, and using a double, 3 singles, a walk and a fielding error to chase Bears’ starting pitcher Grant Smith (Millennium HS) and take a 6-1 lead. The frustrating part of the game would then ensue for the Bears when they would get a runner to 3rd base in each of the next 3 innings-loading the bases in both the 6th and 7th innings-but coming away with just a single run (in the 7th), and stranding 7 on the basepaths in the process (10 left on in the game). That allowed the Stars to put the game out of reach with 2 runs in the 6th, and then 5 in the 7th-highlighted by a grand-slam home run with 1 out in the 7th inning by Carson Eby-to invoke the 8-run mercy rule and end both the game and the Bears’ season.
Fewless (6-4) enjoyed his second-longest pitching stint of the season-6 innings-to pick up the victory for Lansing (40-18 overall) by allowing just 2 earned runs on only 5 hits. Smith (2-2) allowed 5 runs and 8 hits over the first 3 1/3 innings of the game to take the loss. Eby went 3-for-5 in the Stars’ 20-hit attack, scoring twice and knocking in seven runs. In the final game of his 2-year Bears’ career, Max Johnson led the Bears with a pair of singles in four at-bats as the Bears leave Enid with a 2-2 record in the ’17 World Series.
Despite the disappointment in not being able to advance to the semifinal round, Kimball and the Bears (43-22 overall, 25-15 ACCAC) can be proud of their historic season, since their,43 wins set a new mark for wins in a single season, since the previous high in the 96-year history was the 40 wins posted by the 1992 Bears.