Championship or bust for 35-8 SRJC

Will Mathis, Assistant Sports Editor

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This is where they expected to be, until they lost their two best bullpen arms.

Evan Hill and Anthony Bender both went down with injuries in the opening week of the season.

Hill made three appearances in the first five games of the season. He didn’t allow a run in the eight innings he pitched, but Santa Rosa Junior College has been without him since Feb. 5.

Anthony Bender, who has the attention of many major league scouts, made one relief appearance in the opening week. He features a mid to high 90s fastball and a knee-buckling curveball. He was also the designated hitter in SRJC’s first three games collecting four hits and three RBIs. But he disappeared as well after SRJC’s game Feb. 2.

“We didn’t know what we were going to do,” assistant coach Tom Francois said. “They knew somebody had to step up. Who it was going to be? Nobody knew.”

Ladd Ah Choy, Jared Noonan, Jackson Ketron and Paris Selzer solidified a bullpen that was forced to create a new identity.

“We knew [Hill and Bender] were a big part of our team,” Ah Choy said. “When they got hurt we needed to come in and do our jobs. Come in, throw strikes, because that’s what they would do.”

With SRJC down 5-1 in the third inning of Game 1 of its Sectional round matchup with Chabot College, Ah Choy pitched three shutout innings ultimately letting the Bear Cubs offense rally back for a 7-5 win. Ah Choy has allowed one run on three hits in seven innings this postseason.

“When you’re coming out of the bullpen you’re supposed to throw strikes and locate, and everyone’s done that this year,” Noonan said. “Everyone picks you up. The defense does and the hitting does. They make it as easy as it can get on you.”

Noonan, a freshman, entered the fifth inning of the win-or-go-home Game 3 of SRJC’s Regional round matchup against Reedley College with the go-ahead run on third base and nobody out. Noonan kept the runner from scoring with a ground ball to shortstop Jake Scheiner, who threw the runner out at the plate trying to score, and gave the Bear Cubs a jolt of energy in their 6-2 win.

Noonan leads the group with four saves this season.

Ketron, a sophomore, was the featured arm out of the bullpen immediately following the injuries. He appeared in eight of 11 games between Feb. 5 and March 14. During that time he picked up a win and a save with a 2.72 ERA. He has pitched 9.1 innings this postseason and hasn’t allowed an earned run.

“It’s made us come together a little more as a bullpen,” Selzer said. “We’re more well rounded now. Now we have Bender back and guys who have done it in those late innings. We’ve got three or four guys we can go to in situations. We don’t have to rely on one guy.”

Selzer entered the ninth inning of a tie game against San Joaquin Delta College April 21. He pitched two perfect innings, striking out two batters, and SRJC won the game with Matt Bone’s RBI-single in the 10th inning, sweeping the three-game series with Delta.

Bender returned to action April 26, immediately taking over the closer’s role. He hasn’t allowed a run in the eight innings he’s pitched since his return. He’s struck out 14 batters and allowed three hits.

The Bear Cubs arrived in Fresno Friday afternoon, ready to battle with Delta, Golden West College and Cypress College for the 2016 California Community College Baseball State Championship. They’ll take part in a double elimination tournament starting on Saturday, with the Champion being crowned on Memorial Day.

Santa Rosa Junior College (35-8) last made the State Championship tournament in 2013. The Bear Cubs lost to Cypress 7-1 in the tournament opener and ultimately finished 3rd while Cypress won the State Championship.

“The level of intensity when you’re out on the field is really fun,” Selzer said. “I didn’t get to actually experience it [in 2013], and I always wanted to go back and experience it myself. This is going to be really special.”

Selzer was a redshirt in 2013 and made the trip to Fresno to watch the Bear Cubs play. The sophomore will be playing his final game for SRJC this weekend.

“Hopefully it’s going to be the championship game,” Selzer said. “Being able to put the jersey on one last time when the stage is that big, that’s definitely pretty cool.”

SRJC plays Cypress at 6 p.m. May 28 at Fresno City College. It’s looking for its third baseball state championship and first since 2005.

“It was our goal from the beginning so it means a lot,” Noonan said. “But we’re not going down there just to go down there. We want to win it.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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