Ostrander reflects on record-setting 2011 JCJC baseball season

Written By: Shawn Wansley
Email Address: shawn.wansley@jcjc.edu
Date Submitted: 2011-08-05 11:56:56

 By Shawn Wansley

JCJC Sports Information Director

ELLISVILLE – About two months after the final out was recorded in the NJCAA Division II World Series in Enid, Okla., a sense of accomplishment had finally settled in for Jones County Junior College baseball coach Christian Ostrander.

“It has definitely set in,” he said in an interview recently from the JCJC Baseball Office. “You catch yourself reflecting here and there during some downtime. I guess the further away we got from the final loss and that sting wore off a bit, it was like, ‘Wow. We had a pretty good run.’

“Winning the state on this field this year in our new ballpark and then an unbelievable regional at Holmes and then going to the World Series and representing everyone well and having a chance to play in the national championship game – it was a special, special year.”

The Bobcats ended up second in the World Series, falling to Western Oklahoma State College 11-1 in the championship game on June 4 at David Allen Memorial Ballpark. JCJC entered the event ranked No. 6 in the nation and proceeded to defeat fourth-ranked Des Moines Area Community College (Iowa), 9-1; top-ranked Heartland Community College (Ill.), 10-5; No. 14 Kellogg Community College (Mich.), 10-7 in 10 innings; and No. 7-rated Madison Area Technical College (Wisc.), 11-4, in their first four games.

In their next game, they led Western Oklahoma 5-4 going into the bottom of the eighth inning, but the Pioneers scored seven runs and ended up winning 11-5. That set the stage for the title game where the Bobcats came up short.

JCJC posted a 46-17 record in 2011 – the third straight year they had set a school record for victories under Ostrander’s watch. The Bobcats were 36-16 in his first season in 2009 and 38-12 in 2010, giving him a remarkable 120-45 record in three years as the Bobcats’ head coach.

Expectations were high heading into this season.

The Bobcats had a veteran team returning and would be playing their debut season in brand new, $2.8 million Community Bank Park.

JCJC did all right coming out of the game, but they were not hitting on all cylinders.

Then came a game in late March that changed the fortunes of their season.

“Every team I have ever been a part of in coaching, whether as a head coach or an assistant, there is always going to be some adversity during the year,” Ostrander said. “Ours kind of happened early with some injuries right out of the gate. That first 20 or 22 games, we were still trying to find our identity.

“I can define the day that was the turning point – March 22 in a makeup game against Baton Rouge (Community College, La.). We played a nine-inning game out here. Baton Rouge, a really good team, played great and we did not play anywhere near our capabilities.”

The Bobcats lost the game, 4-2, and saw their record fall to 15-9. They appeared flat for the most part during that game and Ostrander said it was time for things to be set straight.

“We had a team meeting that night and told the guys it was either going to be this way or that way,” Ostrander said.  “I told them I was not going to stop coaching them hard and it was time for them to be on board. We had a lot of guys speak and, in my opinion, handled things right.

“From that point on, I believe we went 31-8. That was the defining moment. It rattled their cage a bit and woke them up. We had some immediate success right after that and it just kind of caught fire.”

JCJC won its second straight MACJC South Division crown, which enabled them to host East Mississippi Community College in the opening round of the state playoffs on May 4-5. The Bobcats beat the Lions, two games to one, and that earned them the right to host the MACJC State Tournament on May 12-15 in Community Bank Park.

Large crowds were on hand to watch JCJC sweep Northwest, 7-0; Holmes, 6-1; and Northwest, 11-6, to claim the school’s fourth state championship and first since 2002.

Ostrander said it was fitting for JCJC to host the state tournament at the new stadium because of the effort made by school president Dr. Jesse Smith and the Board of Trustees to have a quality baseball program.

“The state championship was very exciting, but winning the South Division was our main goal,” he said. “Because if you win the South that puts you into a position to host and we were ecstatic about that. Dr. Smith, the administration and Board made a big commitment to baseball to win. It makes me feel good to bring that to them this year – it was not me, it was the players. It was great just to be able to see that their vision and commitment has paid off.”

Ostrander said it was a special weekend for the MACJC Tournament.

“A state championship is what it is all about in Mississippi,” he said. “It’s bragging rights and it’s a pride thing. They had last won it in 2002, so it had been nine years. It was a great weekend. We fought some rain, but our guys played outstanding baseball. It was very exciting and rewarding.”

JCJC then turned its attention to the Region 23 Tournament at Holmes Community College in Goodman. Most people expected a showdown between the Bobcats and defending national champion LSU-Eunice.

It would happen, but the Bobcats had to fight just to make the championship round.

The Bobcats dropped the region opener to host Holmes, but bounced back to beat Northwest and Holmes to set the stage for the final day. Ladd Rhodes hit a walkoff, two-run home run to propel JCJC to a 6-5 victory in the opener vs. LSU-Eunice and the Bobcats scored four runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to secure the nightcap, 8-7.

“The regional was a different beast. We kind of walked through the state – one-two-three,” Ostrander said. “We hoped the same thing would happen in the regional, but we didn’t play our best in a couple of areas against Holmes in that first game and lost, 5-4.

“So, we put ourselves in a position where we had to play 36 innings in 24 hours and that is not easy. We came out the next morning and beat Northwest, went back to the hotel, got a shower, and came back that night and beat Holmes to get us to the championship day on Saturday vs. LSU-Eunice.”

The two games the Bobcats played on May 21 vs. LSU-Eunice were about as special as any games in the history of the program.

“You feel like a proud father because of what those guys accomplished on that day,” Ostrander explained. “It was hot, tough and draining on that day. I’ve said this so many times to so many people that the most talented teams don’t always win in this game – it’s the team with more heart and determination and unity. Saturday’s games could be used as an example for years and years and years to come.

“Our guys were gassed that day. You look at the pictures from the state championship dogpile and trophy pics and from the regional dogpile and trophy photos and there is a huge difference.

“Obviously, it was an unbelievable feeling that day. To see those guys celebrate and know they were going to the World Series was great. I knew how special that would be and I knew it would be something they would remember for the rest of their lives.”

The stay in Oklahoma was memorable for many reasons.

It was a 12-hour bus ride to Enid and the Bobcats would end up staying there for 10 days. While fans will reflect on the games, there was much more to the World Series than just the action on the field.

“The whole experience of being at the World Series was special,” Ostrander said. “The games were just one phase of it. This team has called itself a ‘family’ all year and it was our last chance to be together. I told them to make sure they enjoyed the experience because for however long we were there, once it’s over, it’s over.

“But I thought they really enjoyed it. From the first day’s (FCA) breakfast to the opening ceremonies to the practices to the cookouts to the Enid Astros (JCJC’s host youth baseball team) and watching them play – all of those things were great experiences for these guys.

“They were proud, they were there, they were recognized for their accomplishments and that’s what a World Series is all about. It was great for them to be able to feel that.”

The Bobcats played quite well during the World Series and folks around Enid certainly knew who they were.

“As far as the games themselves, it was just the same old boys going out there playing every day,” Ostrander said. “We ran into a buzzsaw with Western Oklahoma, but we have nothing to be ashamed of for our performance up there. We put ourselves in a position to win a national championship.”

Ostrander said the trip, hopefully, will set the stage for more trips to the World Series and, eventually, a national championship.

“If we get back there enough, we will do it,” he said. “There will come a point where we will do it. If you do something once, it’s confidence because you can do it again and we can. It won’t be easy because you’ve got to get through your schedule, get through the South, get through the state tournament, win enough to get to a regional and you will have to knock off some good Mississippi teams and a Eunice.

“That’s why when we rolled into Enid, everybody was calling us ‘giantkillers’ – which I kind of disagreed with them a little bit on that.”

By being in the national stage, the team brought attention not only to JCJC, but to themselves as well. Senior college scouts from across the country were there and Ostrander said that benefitted his players when it came time to sign scholarships.

“Something that I am extremely proud of is that every one of our sophomores, even the backup guys, has an offer to go play at the next level,” he said. “That means a lot. That tells you a little something right there.”

Ostrander added that the team had excellent chemistry and outstanding sophomore leadership, starting with pitcher Andrew Pierce. Pierce ended the year with an 11-3 record and was named a first-team All-American for the second straight year. But he noted another sophomore pitcher, Blake McIlwain, was clutch down the stretch.

“Andrew had a great year again, was an All-American and a leader of the staff,” he said. “Blake was our fourth starter all year, but came up big at the end in the Gulf Coast game where we clinched the South Division to the game against LSU-Eunice in the regionals and against Madison, Wisc., in the World Series.

“Nick Ray, Graham Odom and Chase Headrick – those sophomores in the infield – had great years and showed great leadership. The same thing can be said for the outfield with Ladd Rhodes and Darion Hamilton and with Ryan Roberts behind the plate.

‘Then you talk about the freshmen – Zach Allen, Chad Guice, Vito Perna, Logan Riddell, Chase Stewart and on and on – it was just a good mixture. Guys stepped up, had good years, and accepted their roles and we went from there.”

The World Series will be something the 2011 Bobcats will remember forever. But Ostrander and his coaching staff are already busy planning for the 2012 season.

And he is quite optimistic that they can have another good season.

“At this level, you will lose about half of your players every year,” he said. “At this level we were playing at, we had predominantly sophomores. You would love to have a ’50-50’ split, but we have enough anchors coming back to be successful.

“On the mound, we have a great starting point with two guys – Vito Perna, who won 11 games, and Logan Riddell, who won 10 games. We have our top two hitters returning in Zach Allen and Vito. Chad Guice hit over .300 all year. Then we have returning guys and new guys coming in who will have a chance to win some spots.

“I like what I see on paper right now. But we will have the whole fall to instill our beliefs and our program and our style of play into these players.

“The ones that stick around will go out there and play the game the way our team has been playing the last three years. We have played the game hard, with determination, confidence and aggressiveness. That’s all I can ask for as a coach.”

 

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