14th-ranked Bobcats open postseason play vs. East Mississippi
Written By: Shawn Wansley
Email Address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Date Submitted: 2011-05-04 14:17:08
By Shawn Wansley
JCJC Sports Information Director
ELLISVILLE – The 14th-ranked Jones County Junior College Bobcats have done about what head coach Christian Ostrander thought they could do this season.
So far, the Bobcats have posted a 33-13 record, they have won their second consecutive MACJC South Division championship with an impressive 19-5 league mark and they will host an opening round state tournament playoff series this weekend.
“I’m proud of what the guys have done to get us to this point,” said Ostrander, who owns a sterling 107-41 record in his third year as head coach of the Bobcats. “The opportunity to be the No. 1 seed in the South Division and host in the first round is great. If we take care of business there, we will be able to host the second round as well.”
The Bobcats will host the East Mississippi Community College Lions in an opening round, best-of-three playoff series on Friday-Saturday at Community Bank Park.
Game 1 will be at 6 p.m. on Friday with Game 2 scheduled for 2 p.m. on Saturday. A third game, if necessary, would follow 30 minutes after the conclusion of Game 2.
If the Bobcats win the series, then they will host the four-team, double-elimination MACJC State Tournament May 12-14.
The Bobcats lost their season opener to Baton Rouge Community College (La.), 12-3, back on Feb. 9. After a 4-2 loss to BRCC on March 2, the Bobcats were 15-9.
Since that point, they are 18-4 and have won six straight games entering the playoffs. They posted an 11-1 division record in the second half of the season.
“We felt good about our group all along,” Ostrander said. “It took us a little time to put the right pieces of the puzzle together and see where they needed to fit. We had to get guys to settle into their roles individually, which obviously helps you as a team to flourish.
“I would not say we’ve had any surprises. It’s all come together for us a little bit. I think it has more to do with these guys and their character and their unity and how they play as a team.”
The Bobcats have been solid in many facets, especially with starting pitching. JCJC boasts a 2.81 team earned run average and opponents are hitting just .245 against them.
Stringer sophomore Andrew Pierce is 8-1 with a 1.50 ERA and three saves. The Southern Miss signee has 91 strikeouts in 78 innings, has allowed just 49 hits and has walked only nine. He was a first-team NJCAA All-American as a freshman in 2010.
West Jones freshman Vito Perna is 8-0 with a 2.34 ERA and one save. Perna has pitched 50 innings, allowed just 44 hits and has struck out 44.
Kenner, La., freshman Logan Riddell is 7-4 with a 2.27 ERA. He has pitched 67 1/3 innings, allowed 68 hits, with 47 strikeouts and just 14 walks.
Wayne County sophomore Blake McIlwain is 4-4 with a 2.91 ERA. He has thrown 46 1/3 innings, allowed 45 hits and has struck out 33.
“Pitching-wise, we believe our starting pitching has given us a chance all year,” Ostrander said. “Obviously, what Andrew has done speaks for itself. He is that anchor and that constant for us. Vito has really come on and adjusted to this level. He has gotten better and better.
“Logan has been solid as a starter and goes deep into every game he pitches and always gives us a chance to win. Blake has done the same thing. He has had some great games for us, in particular against East Central (a 7-2 win on March 30) and Gulf Coast (a 10-1 win on April 27). Those four guys have been outstanding.”
Out of the bullpen, the Bobcats utilize the services of Luling, La., sophomore Ryan Waters (3-2, 4.38 ERA), Wayne County sophomore Josh Palmer (2-1, 5.60 ERA) and West Jones freshman Chase Stewart (1-1, 2.04). South Jones freshman Tyler Fall, Picayune freshman Bryce Ladner and Oxford freshman Cameron Rose could also see duty because all postseason games are nine-inning contests, as opposed to the seven-inning, regular season doubleheader games.
“Ryan, Josh and Chase have done a great job for us. And Tyler, Bryce and Cameron give us plenty of arms out of the bullpen,” Ostrander said. “I won’t sit here and say we have the deepest staff, but we have guys on the back end – our relief corps – that can come in and get outs for us. We can mix and match, piece it together and do whatever we need to do.
“The biggest thing is to come in and throw strikes and let the defense make the plays behind you. If we get some good starting pitching and they get us deep into the games, we are pretty certain we’ve got some guys on the back end that can get us those last few outs.”
Offensively, JCJC has settled into a consistent starting lineup. The Bobcats own a .311 team batting average and Perna leads the team in the ‘Triple Crown’ categories of batting average, home runs and RBIs.
For most of the season, Pascagoula freshman second baseman Zach Allen (.360 batting average, 11 steals) has been batting leadoff, followed by Gulfport sophomore centerfielder and Southeastern Louisiana signee Ladd Rhodes (.312, 11 steals). Perna (.383, six home runs, 42 RBIs), the designated hitter, hits third, followed by Gulfport sophomore first baseman Nick Ray (.284, nine doubles) in the cleanup spot. Taylorsville sophomore rightfielder Darion Hamilton (.305, 29 RBIs, 15 steals) hits fifth, followed by West Jones sophomore third baseman Chase Headrick (.313, seven doubles). Birmingham, Ala., sophomore catcher Ryan Roberts (.314, four home runs, 28 RBIs), Sumrall freshman leftfielder Chad Guice (.329, 34 runs scored) and Pascagoula sophomore shortstop Graham Odom (.283) round out the order.
“We have found a lineup with what we are comfortable with right now,” Ostrander said. “It seems to be flowing pretty good. It’s kind of a typical lineup, I guess. Our ‘1-2’ guys, our ‘tablesetters,’ can do some things with the bat. They can execute and they can run the bases. Our ‘3-4-5-6’ guys, our power guys, have been able to drive those runners in and drive some gaps.
“You round it off on the back end with the ‘7-8-9’ guys. Hopefully, they can handle the bat, work the count a bit and be tough outs. We feel good about the balance in the lineup. But in playoff baseball, it just comes down to performing.”
Rounding out the Bobcat roster are Ridgeland freshmen Jarrett Jenkins and Tate Ratcliff, Gulfport sophomore Jay Bell, South Jones freshman Jon Glaze, Quitman freshman Jace Belcher, Raleigh freshman Tre Keyes, Picayune freshman Jay Dedeaux, Benton freshman Blake Bowman, West Jones freshman Zane Walley, Stringer freshman Weston Stringer and Richton freshman redshirt David Walley.
The Bobcats have improved defensively as the season has progressed. They own a .956 team fielding percentage and have turned 31 double plays.
“We like our team defensively,” Ostrander said. “If you look at every area, we are very capable and matchup well with everybody else. Errors are going to happen, but you just have to be able to minimize those. That kind of falls on the pitchers. You just have to make a good pitch and not let it snowball.
“With these new bats and how college baseball has changed, if you throw strikes and make plays defensively, that means you are going to have a chance and you are going to be in the game. We have done that for the most part and, hopefully, we can continue that in the playoffs.”
East Mississippi , under first-year head coach Chris Rose, enters the series with a 16-27 record. But considering they started the season 1-18, that is quite an accomplishment.
The Lions entered last Saturday’s doubleheader needing a split against Northeast to qualify as the No. 4 seed out of the North Division and they got a sweep.
JCJC swept the Lions 5-1 and 2-1 in eight innings back on Feb. 12, but Ostrander said those games do not mean anything at this point.
“East Mississippi is a good team and to be in the top four in the North means they have done something right,” he said. “We respect them, no doubt about it. They are going to come here ready to play and they will be excited about being in the playoffs. We know they will come in here and try to knock us off.
“We did play them early in the year, but they are a different team now. We are, too. I am not putting any stock in what we saw or what they saw in that first week of the season. We are both different teams now. Everybody is 0-0 now.”
Last year, the Bobcats ‘hosted’ Northwest in an opening round, best-of-three series and had to play at William Carey University because of the ongoing construction of Community Bank Park. Then, the Bobcats ended up ‘hosting’ the state tournament and had to play at Smith-Wills Stadium in Jackson.
Now, they have a chance to play on their homefield and show off their sparkling, 520-seat facility.
Ostrander is thrilled about that opportunity and credits JCJC President Dr. Jesse Smith and the school’s Board of Trustees with making it happen.
“If you had to write it up, this is exactly what we had envisioned and hoped for this year for a lot of reasons,” he said. “It’s not just the fact of playing at home in a comfortable atmosphere, but to be able to show this park off is great.
“The commitment Dr. Smith and the Board made and to be able to bring playoff baseball here in the first year is very exciting. That’s been our goal, to win the South so we can have that opportunity to host all the way through it.
“We hope a great crowd comes out to support us and we look forward to getting it started.”
The other opening round series will feature Mississippi Gulf Coast (South No. 2) hosting Itawamba (North No. 3), East Central (South No. 3) at Northwest (North No. 2) and Pearl River (South No. 4) at Holmes (North No. 1).
The winners of the four playoff series will advance to the state tournament next week. That will be held at the site of the highest remaining South Division team.
Ostrander is hopeful his Bobcats will be that host team, but he knows they will have to play well this weekend.
“We have played 46 games and we know what we are capable of doing,” he said. “We just have to continue doing what we have been doing and execute. Hopefully, things will fall in a positive way for us.
“Playoff baseball is about that moment. You just have to go out there, take care of business and advance.”
The games vs. East Mississippi will be audiocast on www.jcjc.tv.
MACJC Baseball Playoff Series
East Mississippi at Jones County
Community Bank Park
Game 1, Friday, 6 p.m.
Game 2, Saturday, 2 p.m.
Game 3, if necessary, 30 minutes after Game 2
General admission: $5