By Todd Wills
Special to the Daily Sun
The Navarro Bulldogs won the 2011 JUCO World Series the way most baseball championships are won.
With a deep pitching staff. An unsung hero. Great defense.
And a defining moment, catcher J.T. Files’ walkoff home run in the national championship game.
The Bulldogs, ranked No. 1 by PerfectGame.com and No. 2 in the final NJCAA National Poll, are back in Grand Junction and looking for their second national title in three years.
Knowing what it takes to win the week-long tournament, and using 2011 as a guide, here’s how the Bulldogs can win it all again.
Deep pitching staff
It’s arguable that this year’s Navarro team has a deeper staff than 2011, and Bulldogs coach Whoa Dill believes his pitching will be the best in Grand Junction.
Navarro had three solid starters in 2011 — Tyler Mapes, who had to fight through getting sick in the tournament opener, Austin Pruitt and Tyler Carter. Closer Justin Thomas came up huge at the World Series, getting a clutch save against Chipola in a 3-2 victory.
This year’s Bulldogs have a deeper quartet of sophomore starters with 10-game winner Lukas Schiraldi, nine-game winner Gage Curry and two-year rotation stalwarts Chad Young and Zach Hobbs. All four are Division I signees.
The bullpen is loaded starting with regional tournament star Blake Griffin, who has 11 saves. It doesn’t end there. J.D. Hammer is as talented as any pitcher on the staff and Jack Moffitt can throw multiple innings. Clint Wilson, another big talent, may able to pitch in Grand Junction. Jovan Hernandez can pitch. Curry and Young can pitch out of the bullpen.
“We’re deeper and older,” Navarro coach Whoa Dill said. “I like the back end of the bullpen better. They’re close, but I think this one is deeper.”
Who will be the David Harris of the 2013 JUCO World Series?
Harris, who hit three home runs during the regular season, batted as the designated hitter for the 2011 Series and had a week to remember. Harris easily could have been the tournament MVP, belting four home runs in six games and driving in 13 runs.
“He was the unsung hero,” Dill said. “He was a good player, but when it came time for the World Series, he was a threat. To this day, proud of J.T. Files for what he did to win tournament MVP. But I thought David Harris was the MVP.”
The Bulldogs figure to get big hits — and power — from first baseman Tyler Wilson and catcher John Clay Reeves. It’s only 301 feet down the left field line.
Two possible unsung heroes to keep an eye on — leadoff hitter Kaleb Goodell and third baseman Grayson Lewis.
“Kaleb Goodell, he’s getting hot,” Dill said. “He plays a key role to the offense.
“And Grayson Lewis, he’s going to stay hot for us,” Dill said.
The Bulldogs flashed their leather from the very start of the 2011 World Series with Garrett Autrey making a diving catch in the first inning of the first game against Southern Union, Ala.
First baseman Casey Grayson also had a brilliant tournament with his glove.
Dill said overall this year’s team is better defensively, starting with the infield.
“We’re more athletic,” Dill said.
Dill says Wilson is Grayson’s equal at first base. Christian Stringer, now at Rice, was a very good second baseman, but Drake Roberts has more foot speed and goes to his right easier. Lewis is an outstanding third baseman.
The outfield defense may be improved over 2011, Dill said, and Reeves is an experienced catcher having transferred from Arkansas.
No moment in time can top Files’ two-run home run in the bottom of the 10th to be favorite Central Arizona in the 2011 championship game.
Files went the other way, after faking a bunt, and hit a shot over the right field fence, setting off a wild celebration.
What will be this year’s defining moment? It could come early in the tournament. It could come late.
Chances are something magical will happen if the Bulldogs are able to pull off another national title.
Fans in Grand Junction remember how Navarro won its first title.
“It’s going to be hard to repeat,” Dill said. “That was storybook. These fans in Grand Junction remember it. They’re glad to see us back here.
“If it’s another walkoff or we somehow win by eight runs, we’ll take it,” Dill said. “If we play well we’re going to give ourselves a chance.”
JUCO World Series
Suplizio Field ••• Grand Junction, Colo.
(all Navarro games broadcast on KAND 1340 AM. Follow the Bulldogs online on Twitter, @dailysunscores, or on Facebook at facebook.com/dailysunsports)
1. Central Alabama CC vs. Palm Beach State 10 a.m.
2. Kaskaskia College vs. Midland College 1:00
3. Spartanburg Methodist vs. Walters State CC 4:00
4. Navarro vs. Connors State 8:30
5. Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser 11 a.m.
6. Game 3 loser vs. Game 4 loser 3 p.m.
7. Neosho County vs. Cochise College 8:30
8. Game 5 winner vs. Game 6 winner 11 a.m.
9. Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 winner 3 p.m.
10. Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner 8:30 p.m.