GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. – In its final practice at Leroy Dreyer Field on Tuesday, the Blinn baseball team blared crowd music throughout the diamond.
For their first NJCAA World Series in 22 years, the Buccaneers have to be prepared for everything, including playing in front of crowds that will exceed 5,000 at the 2014 Alpine Junior College World Series here May 24-May 31.
Blinn qualified for its first World Series appearance since 1992 with a 12-4 win over the Alvin Dolphins at the Region XIV Conference Tournament.
“It’s been a whirlwind,” Blinn (34-26) coach Harvey McIntyre said. “It’s unbelievable. You have to step back away from everything and really enjoy it.”
The Bucs begin their run for the program’s first World Series title Saturday at 3 p.m. against Cochise (Ariz.) College (37-27) at Suplizio Field in Grand Junction, Colo.
“We’ve been working on getting here the past two years,” sophomore Cullen Gassaway said. “To finally be here, it’s an amazing feeling.”
Blinn ran through the conference tournament, winning its first three games before Alvin handed the Bucs their first loss, 12-4, of the double-elimination tournament. Blinn promptly responded with a 12-4 win of its own in a winner-take-all game to claim its first conference championship in seven seasons under McIntyre.
“It’s an amazing feeling to be the first group in all of coach McIntyre’s years of coaching to lead him to the World Series,” sophomore Nolan Brown said.
With the conference championship in hand, the Bucs are looking to build on their hot streak. The first team in their way is Cochise, the Western District champion and the third-place finisher at the 2013 World Series.
McIntyre sees a lot of similarities between the Apaches and Bucs. For one, both teams are young. Blinn sports seven freshmen in its starting lineup and 22 freshmen on the team, while the Apaches have 13 freshmen.
And not just paralleled by their youth, neither team was expected to make it to the World Series and both had to battle through a winner-take-all game to earn their berth.
“I’ve been very impressed with them,” McIntyre said of the Apaches. “To make it to the World Series in back-to-back years, I don’t care who you are, that’s an impressive feat.
“At the same time, our guys have shown a ton of resolve and character this season, and to get through our conference tournament wasn’t an easy task. They’ve done a phenomenal job.”
A phenomenal job that began with their two sophomores, Brown and Cullen Gassaway, who have paced the offense all season. Brown is batting at a .409 clip, has a .479 on-base percentage and a team-best 76 hits and 22 stolen bases.
Gassaway, a University of Arkansas signee, is hitting .310 with 57 RBI and 30 extra-base hits.
Sophomore Robbie Dickey has been the Bucs’ ace on the mound, with 80 innings pitched, 91 strikeouts (10.2 per game) and a 2.59 ERA.
Pitching and defense have been the Buccaneers’ strengths all season, but it was the offense that lit up the conference tournament, scoring 40 runs in five games.
“Our guys really stepped it up with a trip to Grand Junction on the line,” McIntyre said. “They’ve been talking about Grand Junction, Colo., since the beginning of the season. But it’s one thing to talk; it’s another to get the job done. All season they believed they should be here.”
Cochise will respond with an offense that’s batting .276, led by freshman Louis Boyd’s .330 average, and a pitching staff that carries a 3.23 ERA in 507 2-3 innings of work. The Apaches, like the Bucs, are still riding a hot streak after winning the last regular season game of the year to qualify for their conference tournament, then winning two of three against South Mountain (Ariz.) Community College to qualify for the World Series.
For the Bucs, looking to claim a World Series title, there’s only one thought going through the team’s mind.
“We believe,” Dickey said.
The Buccaneers’ World Series run begins Saturday at 4 p.m. CST against Cochise (Ariz.) College. Follow Blinn’s games live on local radio 1280-AM KWHI, www.kwhi.com or watch live video broadcasts at from the baseball schedule page at www.buccaneersports.com.
Blinn has competed in intercollegiate athletics since 1903 and captured 29 NJCAA national championships since 1987. This season marks the baseball team’s sixth World Series appearance, including previous berths in 1962, ’64, ’65, ’68 and ’92.
For more information on Blinn baseball, visit www.buccaneersports.com.