GRAND JUNCTION, COLORADO
An offensive JUCO World Series continued Sunday morning in Game 5 of the tournament at Sam Suplizio Field. Iowa Western and Connors State, the South Central District champs, met in the final first-round game of the 2019 edition of the NJCAA D-1 baseball tournament.
Freshman Braedyn McLaughlin got the call for Head Coach Marc Rardin's squad as the Reivers (48-9), looked to continue their excellent post-season run. Connors State (48-11) batted as the visitors, a spot that the team was more than accustomed to. The Cowboys home field was under construction for the duration of the season, meaning they didn't play a true home game all season.
McLaughlin escaped a jam in the first inning when he froze CSC right-fielder Braden Calico for his 3rd strikeout of the inning. The Reivers were shut down in their half as Cowboys starter Bryan Martinez battled back in the count for a 1,2,3 inning.
A close play at 1st allowed Connors State catcher Mike Coletta to reach to lead off the 2nd. Reiver 3rd baseman Ross Indlecoffer, playing on a fast infield, initially bobbled a grounder, but put a strong throw to 1st baseman Ronald Sweeny III before the umpire ruled that Coletta had beat the throw. Garrett Meidl followed with a single before DeClaudio Irvin moved both runners into scoring position with a sacrifice bunt. Centerfielder Anmi Ortega then followed with a deep drive to his counterpart, Reivers sophomore Isaiah Peterson, to drive in Coletta.
The Reivers would plate the tying run in the bottom of the inning when Martinez walked Gibson Krzeminski and Peterson back to back before Indlecoffer hit a sharp grounder to Cowboy third baseman David Mendham. Mendham's throw went wide to the foul ball side of 1st base, allowing Krzeminski to score.
Connors State rebounded quickly in the third when first baseman Jake Womack hit his team-leading 15th homer to put the Cowboys back in front by a run.
With one out in the bottom of the 3rd, Reivers left fielder Caleb Balgaard hit an inside the park home run on a towering fly ball to center that Amni Ortega lost in the sun. By the time the ball bounced 10 feet behind the fielder, Balgaard was on his way to 3rd before diving head first across the plate to tie the game at 2. The Reivers followed with 5 singles and a walk before shortstop Cooper Bowman and Balgaard plated the final 2 runs of a 9 run outburst on the 2nd homer of the inning for the redshirt freshman. Balgaard drove in 3 runs in the inning, while Greg Bennett slapped a 2-run single as IWCC took a 10-2 lead after 3.
Connors State would rally to slice the lead to 10-3 in the top of the 4th, but Bennett would send a blast into the parking lot with Sweeny aboard in the bottom for RBIs three and four on the afternoon and a 12-3 lead.
Both teams came up empty in the 5th as McLaughlin escaped the top of the inning with his 4th and final strikeout of his outing.
It was the Cowboys turn for a big inning in the top half of the 6th as they plated 7 runs on 8 hits, chasing both McLaughlin and sophomore reliever Jayden Kruse from the game. Freshman Brandon Doty induced a 6-4-3 double-play grounder as the Reivers escaped leading by just two runs.
Sweeny immediately gave his squad a bit more breathing room in the bottom half, sending the first pitch of the inning over the rightfield fence with an effortless swing for his 16th homer of the season. Iowa Western followed with four straight base hits, including a 2-run double by Bennett, to plate three more runs and a 16-10 lead after 6 innings.
Doty allowed only a walk through the following 2 innings, while 'Team 45' began the bottom half of the 8th with Bennett's 4th hit of the game, a double that was the only one of his hits that didn't produce a pair of runs batted in. It did, however, produce a run when Colin Kasperbauer singled him home with one away. Bowman sent Kasperbauer to 3rd with a 1-out double and Connors State loaded the bases by intentionally walking Balgaard to bring Mason Speirs to the plate. The sophomore came in as a defensive replacement one inning earlier and walked the Reivers off with an RBI single to the left side that drove in Kasperbauer for a run-rule 8-inning victory.
The 18-10 Reivers victory made it eight out of ten teams to reach double-figures scored in first round games. Only defending champ Chipola and Monroe failed to reach the mark in their opening day losses in Grand Junction.
The Reivers pounded out 21 hits on the afternoon, including multiple hit performances by six different players and eight extra-base hits. Bennett, batting as the designated hitter, finished 4-5 with 6 RBI and 4 runs scored to lead the way, while Balgaard, Sweeny, and Krzeminski each finished with three hits in the win.
McLaughlin earned the win with five innings pitched. The freshman threw 93 pitches to 28 different Cowboy batters.
With the win, the Reivers moved to 33-32 all-time at the series and moved the team forward on the winner's side of the 10-team bracket. They'll play next on Tuesday at 8:30 pm Central against the winner of Central Arizona and Chattahoochee Valley. That game is scheduled for 11:00 am Central on Monday to lead off day number three of the tourney.
All action from the Reivers run at the 2019 JUCO World Series can be heard on Iowa Western's FM radio station, 89.7 the River. The station streams for free, worldwide, at www.897theRiver.com.
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