The University of Arizona baseball team is preparing for its trip to Omaha for a berth in the College World Series after beating Mississippi State in two straight Super Regional games. They will play Miami Saturday.
But, should the Wildcats go all the way and win their fifth national title, they won’t be the first to accomplish that feat this year. That honor goes to the Yavapai College Roughriders.
Yavapai, a small two-year program in Prescott, doesn’t get the publicity that Arizona, a high-profile Pac-12 program, enjoys. Most local sports fans, other than those in the high country around the college, likely aren’t aware of Yavapai’s run to the NJCAA Division I national championship.
Fewer still would know that the Roughriders have won four national titles now, the last in 1993. Last year they also made it to the NJCAA World Series after winning the Regional I championship and the Western District Championship.
They lost two straight to scuttle their bid for the 2015 title. But this year they ended the 23-year drought.
Their ticket to the 2016 World Series was punched in dramatic fashion as YC won its second straight Western Division Championship to earn its berth, in a game that was loaded with fireworks. They hammered four home runs to beat Western Nevada College in a video game-like contest that included 36 runs, 42 hits, and 15 extra-base hits.
The two teams used seven pitchers before YC pulled out the 20-16 win.
But once the Roughriders got to Grand Junction, Colo., to begin the national tournament, the road got a lot bumpier.
After winning the opener with Delgado Community Colllege, Yavapai fell into the elimination bracket after a 10-8 loss to Cisco College and had to win four more to be able to claim the title.
After wins over Cowley College and a revenge win in a semifinal match-up with Cisco, the Riders dispatched Iowa Western CC with a 7-3 victory that earned them their first spot in a championship game since 2006.
Yavapai wrapped up a 49-20 season with a 5-2 come-from-behind win against San Jacinto-North in the title contest.
It wasn’t until the fifth inning, when Turtle Kuhaulua parked a solo home run over the left field fence, that YC got on the score board. Caden Goldby singled to right to bring home Gavin Johns for another run in the sixth, and a two-run homer by Johns added two more in the eighth. And then Johns brought home Christian Maggi with a sacrifice fly to add the final score in the ninth.
In addition to the championship trophy, fourth-year head coach Ryan Cougill was named the Bus Bergman Coach of the Year, Preston Walker was selected Most Valuable Player, and Nate Easley earned the Jay Tolman Most Outstanding Defensive Player award.
Joseph Romero, Brock Ephan, and Ramsey Romano joined Easlery and Kuhaulua on the All-Tournament Team.
(Photo: Yavapai College Athletics)