LAKELAND — Colorado, here come the Manatees of State College of Florida.
For the first time since 2002 — when they were the Lancers of Manatee Community College — the Manatees will be heading later this month to the JUCO World Series in Grand Junction, Colo.
SCF clinched a berth in the national tournament behind the ace pitching of Alex Burgos with an 8-1 thrashing of Miami-Dade College in the FCCAA/NJCAA Gulf District state baseball championship Monday.
“It’s wonderful,” Manatees head coach Tim Hill said. “I know what it’s like. Since I know what it’s like, it’s going to be great out there. It’s great that I’ve experienced it, and (Tim Hill II) has experienced it, and now these kids who have never experienced it, they get a chance to experience Grand Junction. It’s the time of their life, a thrill that they’ll never forget. We’ve got guys in the major leagues, who say, ‘Grand Junction’s the best time of their life.’”
Burgos on Sunday had received a high-tech message of encouragement from former teammate Jonathan Rodriguez.
“We Skyped (Sunday) night,” Burgos said. “And he just told me, ‘You know what I’m saying, you’ve got it. You’ve got what it takes to win a state championship.’ And that gave me a little motivation.”
That added incentive was evidenced on the diamond at Joker Marchant Stadium. Burgos struck out nine in a complete game victory over the Miami-Dade Sharks.
The win means SCF (37-13) advances to the Junior College World Series, which begins May 29 in Grand Junction, which is in western Colorado about 30 miles from the Utah state line.
Burgos (13-1) was locked in a pitcher’s duel with Miami Dade’s Derek Law (3-7) for most of the game.
It was scoreless through five innings, without any warning on who would blink first.
That turned out to be Law, the Sharks’ tough-luck hurler, who finished 0-2 in the state tournament despite allowing just one earned run in 13 innings.
Law, a right-hander, pitched three scoreless innings of relief in Monday’s first game.
Yet, he started the afternoon title game against the Manatees.
SCF had a hard time figuring him out in five innings, as the Manatees collected just two hits.
Anthony Figliolia, named the state tourney’s Most Outstanding Player, jumpstarted the offense with a base hit to right field with one out in the top of the sixth.
After a Hunter Ovens flyout, B.J. Zimmerman (2-for-4, double, RBI, run) and Austin Chubb (1-for-2, two RBIs) drew back-to-back two-out walks.
Then with the count 1-0 to Manatee High product Tyler Rocklein, Miami-Dade changed pitchers — bringing in ace Daniel Hernandez.
Law exited with 140 pitches combined in the two Monday games.
Rocklein, who struck out in his two previous at bats, earned a walk in his third plate appearance that made it 1-0.
“I’m just up there, trying to see a strike,” Rocklein said. “He got me 2-1, and then he threw another ball. And he was kind of erratic, so I was taking 3-1 all the way, and he threw for a strike. And then the next pitch was ball four and their side went crazy, but it was a good foot outside.”
SCF tacked on another run in the eighth, before erupting for six runs in the ninth to put the game to rest.
Burgos was named the state tournament’s Most Outstanding Pitcher, and he fanned nine Miami Dade hitters in the first five innings, while working out of a bases-loaded jam early in the game and stranding a couple other runners in scoring position with a key double play by Figliolia to end the sixth.
“I was just there, and it bounced right to me,” Figliolia said. “My foot was on the bag, and just let it go.”
The final out, a groundout to second, sparked a massive dog pile on the pitcher’s mound as SCF players joined Burgos in celebration, which included a water cooler bath for Hill.
Zimmerman, Chubb and Paul Stortini (2-for-4, double, run) were also named to the state tournament team, as Hill picked up the FCCAA/NJCAA Gulf District Coach of the Year award.