After a pedestrian 21-15 season and a third place conference finish, the Jaguars caught fire and blazed through the State Championship tournament, falling just a game away from a shot at the brass when they lost to Glendale College, 11-5 on Sunday.
“With as much as we’ve been banged up all year it makes it tough, we’ve never had a full team,” said head coach Jerry Bartow. “You’ve got to stay healthy in this game.”
Despite losing several key players to injury throughout the season, the Jaguar pitching staff was healthier than ever heading into the postseason.
Bartow’s 60 years in baseball have taught him to never say never, but even the ebullient sage of the diamond did not see this run coming.
Just two weeks ago, the Jaguars were on the brink of missing the playoffs. Going into the final game of the season against Imperial Valley, they won an extra innings nailbiter, catapulting them into the regional playoffs.
Earning home field advantage in game one of the playoffs against College of the Canyons, the Jags earned a three-game series against Chaffey College, which they also won with last-minute dramatics.
Sophomore ace Matt Milke was unhittable in the playoffs, and won three games. All-Conference pitchers Justin Kruse and Patrick McGrath also tacked on wins.
Unlike the regular season, the Jaguar offense found its spark in the playoffs, putting up an average of 6.9 runs per game. A 16-run offensive barrage against Pacific Coast Athletic Conference champion Palomar College knocked the Comets out of the playoffs and left SWC just two games away from the State Championship tournament.
Assistant coach Kenny Salazar said this year’s squad was a pleasure to coach.
“I loved being able to communicate with the kids and show them that I respect them as young men, because that’s what they are,” he said. “Having that mutual respect makes coaching them a lot easier.”
He credited the entire team for great resilience.
“It’s really been a collective effort, everyone has stepped up and done what they can to help out,” Salazar said. “It’s really been a team effort.”