By Ronn Rowland
Phoenix Sports Writer
Some years there is a dominate team in the NJCAA World Series and some years the field is wide open. This year’s edition, which kicks off today in Grand Junction, Colo., is the latter.
“It’s a balanced field I believe,” said Connors State coach Perry Keith. “That’s baseball. It’s who can make pitches and who can’t.”
The No. 3-ranked Cowboys, who enter the tournament with the best record of any of the eight participants at 52-9, begin their play at 8:30 p.m. today against No. 2 Navarro College (Texas) who come in with a 43-14 record.
The Bulldogs have a four-man rotation that features four NCAA Division I signees. Lukas Schiraldi, son of former major leaguer Calvin Schiraldi, leads the staff with 10 wins and has signed to play at Texas, where his dad helped to the Longhorns to 1983 national championship. Gage Curry (Texas A&M-Corpus Christi), Zach Hobbs (Texas-Arlington) and Chad Young (Texas State) round out a rotation that has compiled 30 wins and 208 strikeouts.
“Navarro’s got a good club,” Keith said. “Of course, everybody when you get here, everyone has a good club.”
Navarro enters the tournament as one of two schools with a national championship under its belt, winning the title in 2011. Walters State (Tenn.) is the other school with a championship, that came in 2006.
“Walters is good, so is Spartansburg (S.C.) Methodist, Midland (Texas)...all of them,” Keith said. “Everyone here has a team that can win the whole thing.”
Walters, No. 7 in the country, arrives in Grand Junction relying on the long ball having pounded 43 home runs on the season, good for fifth in the country and having been shut out only five times on the year, sixth in the nation.
No. 1 Spartansburg may be the hottest club entering play today, riding a 14-game winning streak, including a 17-2 thrashing of Potomac State (W. Va.) in the Eastern District final, and meet Walters in the next-to-last game today.
“Everyone is excited around here,” Keith said Friday from Grand Junction. “You have the No. 2 and No. 3 teams meeting our game. The game before ours is No. 1 versus No. 7. It should be an exciting tournament.”
Keith knows his team is aware of where they are and what’s at stake. He also knows the internal make-up of his squad is what might separate the Cowboys from the rest of the field.
“I think the thing our guys have done all year is they play without fear,” he said. “Not fear of other people but without fear of messing up. You have to have that kind of courage when all the marbles are up for grabs.”
While the scouting reports can help a team prepare, changing up the what Connors has done up to this point could mean an early exit.
“We’re going to have to played like we’ve played all year,” Keith said. “We just need to be who we are and let the chips fall where they may. We do that and we should be in good shape.”