NEW ORLEANS — In what has become a compelling “Rags’’-to-riches story in Division I junior-college baseball, top-ranked Delgado Community College opens play Friday in the NJCAA South Central District Championship in tiny Warner, Okla.
The Dolphins (46-9) will face Maple Woods Community College of Missouri (25-25) at noon in the first game of the double-elimination tournament at Biff Thompson Field on the campus of host Connors State College (49-9).
Delgado will turn around and play No. 5-ranked Connors State at 7 p.m. Friday.
Dolphins coach Joe Scheuermann is expected to start left-handers Christian Trent (9-2, 2.77) and Pierce Liberta (7-0, 2.14) in Friday’s games. If Delgado makes it to Saturday, right-hander John DeArmond (2-2, 3.86) will get the ball from Scheuermann, whose team ranks No. 1 in the NJCAA Division 1 poll for first time in school history.
It is an honor Scheuermann has been quick to embrace.
“If Rags were still alive, he’d be proud that we’re No. 1 but he’d also say rankings mean absolutely nothing and we still got to play baseball,’’ Scheuermann said of his legendary late father, who served as Delgado’s head coach from 1972-90.
“If it had happened two weeks ago, I wouldn’t be so excited about it. But at this point in the year, I think it’s a good thing. It convinces our kids that we are the real deal, plus it puts a little pressure on our opponents. I’d rather have the bull’s-eye on our back than the other guy who doesn’t. I like being the guy everybody is shooting for.’’
Because of his team’s starting pitching and overall depth on the mound, Scheuermann said he likes his team’s chances of winning the South Central District title and advancing to the NJCAA World Series in Grand Junction, Colo., beginning May 25.
In sweeping all three games in the Region 23 Tournament, Trent and Liberta pitched complete-game victories, and freshman left-hander Jacob Neil closed out the championship game with six strong innings in relief of DeArmond.
Four pitchers combined to throw all 25 innings, leaving starter Chase Hymel (7-1, 2.02) and relievers Brandt Bourgeois (3-0, 1.83) and Kyle Deckwa (4-0, 3.32) well-rested for this weekend.
“My philosophy in this three-team format is get to Saturday, then it essentially becomes the best two out of three,’’ Scheuermann said. “I’ll take my (Nos.) 3, 4 and 5 starters (DeArmond, Hymel and Neil) against anybody else’s 3-4-5 in the country. I would have to believe our depth on the mound is greater than anybody’s depth that we’re going to play.
“The only thing that concerns me is Hymel, Bourgeois and Deckwa might be a little stale. But it’s a nice problem to have.’’
Of Scheuermann’s top eight pitchers, six are left-handed. He acknowledged this was by design, adding that veteran assistant coach and batting practice pitcher Mike Tullier also is a left-hander.
“It’s a philosophy,’’ said Scheuermann, who hit from the left side in high school and college. “I try to sign every left-handed hitter and pitcher I can find. When I was playing, we never hit against left-handed pitching in practice because they were few and far between. So, when you saw one in a game, it was a big adjustment to make.
“The fact that I like left-handed hitters is because you don’t see many left-handed pitchers,’’ Scheuermann continued. “Left-handed pitchers can change the whole game. They hold runners on, and that helps our catchers defensively. If you can shut the running game down in junior-college baseball, that’s huge.’’
In the end, Scheuermann said his team will go as far as his starting pitching takes it. So far, it’s all the way to No. 1 in the
NJCAA Division I rankings.
“That’s a good thing right now,’’ Delgado right fielder Brady Williamson said. “It’ll mean more if we’re still No. 1 a couple weeks from now. It won’t mean anything if we don’t get to Grand Junction.’’
Delgado has won a school-record 46 games and has not lost back-to-back games this season. ... The Dolphins have a 2.95 team ERA. ... Delgado has reached the NJCAA World Series once before, losing its first two games in 2007. ... Albert Pujols played one season at Maple Woods CC. Playing shortstop in the spring of 1999, the 19-year-old sensation batted .461 with 22 home runs and 80 RBIs as a freshman before deciding to enter the draft.