MARION, Ill. — Wabash Valley did not need any late-inning heroics of the sort necessary to win the first two games of the NJCAA Region 24 baseball tournament.
Instead, the Warriors put up most of their numbers early in Monday’s final, bolting to a 5-0 lead over Kaskaskia in the first two innings.
From there, they managed to keep the Blue Devils at arm’s length for a 9-5 win in the title game at Rent One Park.
WVC (45-11), winners of 18 straight games, advance to the NJCAA Northern District tournament which begins Friday in Iowa.
“I couldn’t be more proud of our guys,” said WVC coach Rob Fournier, now with two region championships under his belt, the first since 2010. “All the things we’ve been through to get here, these guys just grew up every single game.”
After come-from-behind wins against John A. Logan (5-4) Saturday and Kaskaskia (6-4) Sunday, the Warriors wasted little time in a rematch final against Kaskaskia (31-17).
Kevin Suarez’ RBI single and a 2-run shot down the left field line by Carlos Ocasio staked Warrior starter Travis Herrin to a quick 3-0 start.
Two more scratch runs in the second — on a bases-loaded walk to Suarez followed by Tim Barry being hit by a pitch — made it 5-0, shelving Kaskaskia starter Richard Sotolongo in the process.
“We needed that. That was a huge hit by Ocasio,” Fournier said.
Travis Herrin, a 6-foot-3 righthander out of Lebanon, Ind., who pitched three scoreless innings of relief to get the win against Logan Saturday, was called on to lead the bullpen-by-committee assignment Monday.
“Unbelievable pitching by our guys,” Fournier said. “That’s how we drew it up. We didn’t know it would work out beautifully like that.”
But it did.
Herrin was tested throughougt his 3.2-inning stint with Kaskaskia putting two runners on in each frame. However, Herrin was aided by the Warriors behind him on defense who turned double plays in the first two innings to eliminate jams.
The Blue Devils finally did touch Herrin for runs in the third and fourth. A sacrifice fly by DH Clark Pence scored Kaskaskia’s first run in the third, while a 2-run hit by Xavier Warren pulled the Blue Devils within 5-3 in the fourth.
“Herrin gave us a great start, pitching on guts and heart,” Fournier said. “We tried to get him through four innings.”
Fournier turned to Jacob Murray out of the bullpen, and the freshman responded with three innings — interrupted only by a foot injury in the seventh that left him hobbled, then a solo home run by Willie Estrada as Murray attempted to keep going on the mound.
Fournier said Murray gave the Warriors “a big pickup. He gets better every time out. He and Herrin have been lights out for us.”
In came lefty Adan Gutierrez who set up closer Clay Chandler with 1.1 innings of work. Chandler did surrender three straight one-out singles in the ninth which allowed Kaskaskia one final run. But the freshman got the next two batters to cement the win.
After three scoreless innings, the Warriors reignited the offense in the sixth, scoring three runs to hike the lead to 8-3. Jasper freshman Dane Giesler, the player of the year in the Great Rivers Athletic Conference, slammed a double to the warning track in right to score two runs followed a base hit by Alicea.
A third Suarez RBI in the seventh made it 9-4.
WVC, ranked 15th in the latest Division I juco poll, will play at Region 11 champion Iowa Western (48-10) Friday in the four-team Northern District tournament. The Region 4 champion and Region 11 runnerup round out the field in the double-elimination tourney.
Last year, when Region 24 champion Kaskaskia hosted, the Warriors gained entry as the runnerup and defeated Iowa Western before losing to the host Blue Devils, who advanced to the juco World Series in Grand Junction, Col.
Iowa Western, ranked seventh in Division I, defeated state rival Marshalltown (22-33), 14-4, in the Region 11 finals.
NOTES: WVC turned three double plays in the game.