A 10-2 start has Bartow’s boys in the hunt for the championship
Jerry Bartow has spent years making the baseball field feel like home and it has paid off this year as the Jaguars are undefeated at the Junction and 10-2 overall.
“We’ve got a pretty good crowd coming every day, people like their baseball,” said the veteran coach. “I just hope we keep doing good. I think we’ve got a little nucleus anyway, the kids have a good spirit. They play well together as a team.”
SWC’s good spirits were tested during several closely contested games. In the home opener against Chaffey College the team needed 11 innings to scrape by with a 11-10 victory. The Jags had opened up an 8-5 lead after seven innings, but in the top of the eighth Chaffey scored four runs to take a one-run lead. After giving up another run in the top of the ninth, SWC scored on a wild pitch and a passed ball to force extra innings with a 10-10 tie.
Right fielder Roberto Lucero hit a single through the right side of the infield to start off the bottom of the 11th. After centerfielder Chris Allen flew out, the Jags threw conventional wisdom out the window and had Miguel Solano, who is hitting .415 and hits third in the lineup, bunt. Solano’s bunt moved Lucero to second with cleanup hitter Frank Mello stepping up to the plate, but with two outs.
When the freshman took two quick strikes, a 12th inning seemed inevitable. Then Chaffey pitcher Daniel Honorof threw a curveball that caught too much of the plate. Mello took it back up the middle to drive in the game-winning run and made Bartow look like a genius.
“We battled back, that’s a good thing,” said Bartow. “At least we got to play with a little bit of a heart, right? Hopefully that will carry over, we’ll get a little
stronger. We got a lot of new kids, but I think we’ll be alright.”
Bartow’s team did not have to wait long for its next challenge – the next day it fell behind 7-2 against Victor Valley College at the seventh inning stretch. After scoring one run in the seventh and three in the eighth, the Jags were down by one
with left fielder Daniel Goodrich set to lead off the bottom of the ninth. An error by the shortstop put Goodrich on first and catcher Dominik Sawyer bunted to move him over to second. After walking leadoff hitter Roberto Lucero and a Victor Valley pitching change, Chris Allen flew out to right, moving Goodrich to third, where he scored on the next at-bat, a Miguel Solano single.
Then, for the second time in as many days, Mello stepped up to the plate with two outs and the game-winning run in scoring position. Once again, Mello pulled through to complete the comeback.
“I went up there and I was thinking load and explode,” he said. “I was thinking I gotta clutch up there for my team. We’ve all been working hard, they got on base and I just moved them around a little. That’s all.”
While the Jags are off to a hot start, with wins against teams like state-runner up Fullerton College and perennial powerhouse Orange Coast College, Bartow considers non-conference play to be a time to experiment.
“It’s just putting the pieces together,” said Bartow. “We’ve got another (few) games before we open against Palomar, maybe we can establish a lineup before opening day in our league. Try to play all of these guys, find out who can swing the bat.”
One player establishing himself is centerfielder Chris Allen, who is hitting .457 and has scored 15 runs in 12 games. He echoed Bartow’s focus on PCAC games.
“League play is a totally different story,” he said. “That’s when everything counts, when you have to put all of your marbles in. I think (non-conference games are) kind of getting us ready for it and showing the whole team that we have to play all nine, we have to do what we do, and we have to just stick to our SWC baseball.”