They say practice makes perfect. The Highlanders sure hope so.
Two years removed from competing in the JUCO national championship, the McLennan Comunity College baseball team is back in Grand Junction, Colorado. The Highlanders did indeed make it the the title game in 2014-15, only to fall to Northwest Florida State College, 15-1.
It’s a familiar road this time around for head coach Mitch Thompson. Same scenery, same ballpark but hopefully a different result.
“Grand Junction has a hometown feeling, they love hosting this event,” he said. “I mean, the whole town shuts down for this thing. It really is something speacial.”
It’s a great atmosphere for baseball. For example: 6,000 fans came out to see Saturday’s 9 a.m. game, something that most junior college baseball teams have never experienced. The crowds are energetic, loud and stay in the game.
“This is an unbelievable place and if you’re a college baseball fan you need to come see the JUCO World Series and meet the fans and the people that put this thing on,” Thompson said. “They are grass roots, salt of the earth people who love college baseball.”
Off the field distractions are everywhere, though, and Thompson hopes his players can focus on the task at hand. Winning a national championship.
“We went and toured the Colorado National Monument so they know the scenery out here is unbelievable,” he said. “But I told the kids, I want you to keep having fun, but our fun is no longer off the field, it’s right here, right now. We need to get comfortable with the environment, with the crowd, the atmosphere and just go perform. We need to get prepared to come out Sunday night and play a really good brand of baseball.”
It may not seem like it at the time, but the Highlanders have had the luxury of playing in a tough conference. Grueling games against tough teams hopefully has Thompson’s team prepared for the tough road ahead.
“The competition that we play day in and day out in our conference and our region prepares you very well to what your’e going to face out here,” he said. “You won’t face anything different out here than what you have already seen. That’s a real comforting thing as a coach that if we can get through our regional tournament, we have a great opportunity to come out here and compete for all the marbles.”
In the end, it’s about performing. The Highlanders have done that admirably this year, racking up 51 wins and a No. 1 national ranking. But records are thrown out the window in the postseason, and Thompson believes in his kids and what they have accomplished this season.
“We don’t have to do anything special, nothing above and beyond what we are capable of doing,” he said. “If we will just be us, we will have a shot to do good things.
“The focus is not only to enjoy yourself, but it then turns to that fact that we are out here to win a national championship. And I believe we can.”