After 42-year drought, MCC wins JUCO baseball nat’l title

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                </div>  Fans at Mesa Community College are getting a taste of what it was like during the glory days of the school’s baseball program. The stands at David Allen Memorial […]<!-- AddThis Sharing Buttons below -->
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Fans at Mesa Community College are getting a taste of what it was like during the glory days of the school’s baseball program.

The stands at David Allen Memorial Ballpark in Enid, Okla., were overflowing with an enthusiastic crowd that showed up over the weekend to watch Mesa CC win its first national championship in baseball in 42 years.  It has been a long time since the Thunderbirds ruled the junior-college game, when they won three consecutive national titles from 1970 to 192.

Those were the days when the legendary Jim Brock had the reins of the junior-college program before moving on to take over at Arizona State, where he took his teams to 13 College World Series appearances in his 23 years as head coach, and was named national Coach of the Year four times.

But this year’s MCC team was no fluke.  A national title was on the radar even before the playoffs started.  The Thunderbirds entered the post-season as the top-ranked JUCO team in the country.

They got a rude awakening, however, once the NJCAA Division II National Championship Tournament got started. The Tbirds were upset by Indiana’s Vincennes CC in the opener, forcing them to win four straight games to come up through the losers’ bracket and earn the right to meet Hinds CC from Mississippi in Saturday’s championship game.

It took a little extra effort to put this one away – 11 innings to be exact – before the 9-7 victory that sealed the win, and the 2014 title.

MCC finished atop the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference (ACCAC), posting a 27-11 record in conference and 52-13 overall.  Central Arizona College also wrapped a 27-11 conference season, but trailed MCC overall at 42-16.

The Thunderbirds weren’t a power team this year, but got the job done with their own form of small ball.  They collected just 12 home runs on the season, putting them somewhere in the middle of the conference standings in that category.  But their 354 RBIs were fifth-best and they stole 130 bases, second-most in the ACCAC.

A .408 batting average and identical .408 slugging average helped them pile up 426 runs, which was just two runs behind league-leading South Mountain CC.

That offense kicked in after the opening loss to Vincennes in the tournament as Mesa piled up 39 runs on the way to the title game.  Their last win in the losers’ bracket was a 12-0 romp over Hinds, which sent the Mississippi team into the losers’ bracket, where they had to beat Madison CC (Wisc.) to get another shot at the Thunderbirds in the championship game.

In that game, Mesa got out to an early 5-0 lead, but by the end of the seventh inning, the scored was knotted at 6-6.  The next three innings went by without a score until Jordan Zimmerman led off the 11th inning with a triple and James Anderson followed with a single to give the Tbirds the lead.  They added two more runs to give them a 9-6 cushion – which they needed to hold off Hinds’ rally in the bottom of that inning.

Zimmerman, a freshman third baseman from Mesa’s Red Mountain High School, was named the tournament’s MVP after leading his team in the championship game by going 3-for-6 at the plate and contributing three RBIs. Coincidentally, it was his high-school teammate at Red Mountain, sophomore John Harvid, who pitched the first five innings against Hinds to give Mesa its 5-0 lead.

Mesa relied on the same formula that had served them so well during the regular season, staying busy at the plate and on the base paths.  The Tbirds sent 48 batters to the plate, piled up 18 hits, and collected three stolen bases to nail down their fourth NJCAA baseball title in school history.

(Photo: Susan Glasgow Photography)