Yavapai CC grinds out win for JUCO World Series crown

The Yavapai (AZ) CC Roughriders (49-20,5-1 JUCO) were not supposed to even be at the NJCAA D1 JUCO World Series as the Western Region representative. At least in the rankings of JUCO baseball they were not. All year long the Central Arizona Vaqueros were supposed to be the team out of Arizona the regional. Then a funny thing called playoff baseball happened.

One thing led to another and saw Centra Arizona get beat in the state tournament; there emerged the No. 14 Yavapai CC Roughriders. All year long head coach Ryan Cougill knew his team had continued to grind. Nothing was different once the playoffs started for the Roughriders, the team continued to grind out games.

The Roughriders got to the regional championship game vs. Western Nevada CC, where again Yavapai had to grind it out. The game vs. Western Nevada came down to the bottom of the ninth, when Dylan Enwiller hit a grand slam walk off to send Yavapai to the JUCO World Series.

Upon arriving in Grand Junction, Yavapai knew in order to win it all that the grind it out mentality had to continue to show up. Yavapai won their first game at the JUCO World Series, the very next game, however, sent them into the not-so-friendly confines of the losers bracket. The same losers bracket that saw the 2015 JUCO World Series title winning team, North West Florida State, come out of and win.

It’s only appropriate that a grind it out type team such as Yavapai would come out of the losers bracket to win it all. That is exactly what the Roughriders’ did winning three straight down the stretch, including a marathon four hour win against Cisco College (TX).

Yavapai would have to grind it out yet again in the championship game against No. 2 San Jacinto-North (TX) (52-12, 4-2 JUCO) in order to win the JUCO World Series title. It helped that the Roughriders had an extra day off before the championship game, so their ace Joseph “JoJo” Romero was fully rested.

Championship night came when all the stars for the teams needed to step up and produce. Romero, No. 124 on the 200 prospect list for the MLB Draft, was good but not great in his first start of the JUCO World Series, walking six in five innings. Still, he and his team found a way to grind out a 9-5 win.

When Romero stepped on the mound once again on Saturday he threw nothing but his A stuff. Yavapai fell behind early 2-0 to San Jacincto-North, but remember the grind it out mentality of the Yavapai Roughriders that has been used all season.

The Roughriders needed to pull that out one last time if they wanted to see a title come back to Prescott, Ariz., their first since 1993. Behind an amazing effort of Romero on the bump throwing lights out stuff, having a 15 strikeout performance as well as a complete game, the Roughriders were able to draw even and take the lead late in the game.

The eighth inning arrived with the score knotted up at two apiece. Gavin Johns stepped to the plate with a runner on base. Johns smashed a 2-run home run to right center field giving Yavapai the lead, 4-2. Yavapai added another run in the top of the ninth to ultimately win the game, 5-2.

“Everyone expects it, every team in the country wants to do it. You don’t know what it takes till you do it… I’m elated, I’m happy for our players. They’re unbelievable, they deserve every bit of the celebration,” coach Cougill said.

A big part, next to Romero and Johns performances, the performance and stepping up of Rashaan “Turtle” Kuhaulua. Kuhaulua got the offense started with a solo-home run to left field. Even more important, and showing Kuhaulua’s versatility, he moved from third to short stop after teammate Ramsey Romano exited the game with a noticeable ankle injury. It was just another example of Yavapai’s grind it out mentality.

“Yeah, uh I don’t know if everyone else thought we deserved to be here, but our team definitely thought we should be. We definitely started gelling towards the end of the season and we knew if we played how we could we definitely could go far in the tournament,” Kuhaulua said.

Kuhaulua not only won a championship, but also won the Preston Walker MVP award. Along, with Kuhaulua, Nate Ealsey won the Jay Tolman Outstanding Defensive Player award.

The loss for San Jacinto-North sends them home with yet another second place in the title game, their 10th runner-up finish.

Yavapai’s championship is the school’s fourth in JUCO World Series history, their other titles coming in 1975, ’77 an ’93.

Yavapai CC grinds out a 2016 season with the JUCO World Series crown and finishes 49-20 on the season, 5-1 in the NJCAA D1 JUCO World Series.

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