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A look back (2015): NIACC’s improbable run to regional baseball title


This news story was published on May 12, 2020.
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By KIRK HARDCASTLE

NIACC sports information director

Amazing. Improbable. Unbelievable.

All of the above adjectives describe the NIACC baseball team’s run to the 2015 NJCAA Region XI tournament championship.

If those three don’t work for you, let’s throw out unlikely, far-fetched and surprising.

Astonishing, stunning and shocking also are fitting for the Trojans’ run to their second-ever regional tournament title five years ago.

“The thing that really stands out about that team was they were so competitive,” said Travis Hergert, who was the coach of the Trojans from 2013-19. “They always wanted a challenge.”

Well, the 2015 Trojan baseball team definitely had a challenge at the regional tournament at Riverfront Stadium in Waterloo.

Second-seed NIACC entered the 2015 regional tournament on a roll. The Trojans closed the regular season by winning 19 of their final 20 games.

The Trojans topped Iowa Lakes 13-9 in their tournament opener by pounding out 16 hits and receiving home runs from Robbie Glendinning, Luke Becker and Zach Fricke. Troy Bullingham led the Trojans with three RBIs.

In the second round, sixth-seed Southwestern knocked the Trojans to the back side of the bracket with an 8-4 upset victory.

“No disrespect to Southwestern, but on paper, we were supposed to win that game,” Hergert said. “But it was just one of those nights.”

Now, the challenging part was in front of the 12th-ranked Trojans.

To claim the regional tournament title for the second time in three seasons, the Trojans would have to win five, yes five, elimination games in 72 hours.

That’s where the adjectives such as amazing, improbable and unbelievable begin making sense.

In the first elimination game on a Saturday morning against Ellsworth, NIACC trailed 9-1 heading into the bottom of the sixth inning. The Trojans were three outs away from an early tournament exit via the 8-run rule.

“For the first five innings of that first elimination game, it was like a funeral in the dugout,” Hergert recalled. “We got out of the gates slow and then Juan De La Cruz put us on his back.”

The Trojans rallied for six runs in their half of the sixth inning. They plated six more runs in the seventh inning and added two more runs in the eighth inning and stayed alive with a 15-9 come-from-behind victory.

De La Cruz was 3 for 5, including two doubles, with three RBIs to power the NIACC offense.

“We were left for dead,” Hergert said.

Kellen Reed, who did not allow a run in 3 2/3 innings, gained the win in relief for the Trojans.

After the Ellsworth game, NIACC assistant coach Pete Lauritson told Hergert that he needed to joke with the squad before the Trojans’ next game later that evening.

“I can’t remember exactly what I said but I made a joke and no one laughed,” Hergert said. “I told them that they had just won and to be excited and not be so serious.”

Later Saturday night, NIACC eliminated Southeastern 5-3 as the Trojans received a complete-game performance from Daniel Loats, who struck out nine and walked four.

Fricke was 2 for 4, including a home run, with two RBIs. De La Cruz continued to swing a hot bat by going 2 for 4 with an RBI.

“That was one of the better games we had played all season,” Hergert said.

Next up for the Trojans was a Sunday showdown with top-seed Iowa Central and another game where the Trojans would be on the brink of elimination.

“It was another classic NIACC/Iowa Central matchup,” said Hergert, who claimed his 100th career win against the Tritons, “and we kind of had their number.”

After eight innings, Iowa Central held a narrow 6-5 lead and the Tritons still had their ace Abrahan Flete on the mound.

Flete had relieved starter J.C. Hatcher in the first inning. Hatcher allowed three runs in the first inning and did not record an out.

Flete recorded the first two outs of the ninth inning when the Trojans’ No. 3 hitter Daniel Bradley, who had homered and doubled earlier in the game, strolled to the plate.

With the count at two balls and two strikes and the Trojans down to their final strike, Bradley tied the contest by delivering a solo home run with a mammoth blast to straight away center field.

“Bradley hit it about 450 feet,” Hergert said of Bradley’s tape-measure home run that tied the contest at 6-6.

Bradley told the Globe Gazette afterwards that he wanted to be at the plate in that situation.

“When I was going up to the plate, I was thinking of everything we’ve done the last two years,” Bradley said. “In my mind, I was the man for the job. I was going to get it done no matter what.”

But Bradley’s home run wasn’t the walk-off variety. It only tied the game and sent it to extra innings.

NIACC’s Chad Christensen, who pitched five innings of relief, held the Tritons scoreless in their half of the 10th inning.

NIACC plated three runs in its half of the 10th inning and Christensen, once again, kept the Tritons off the board and the Trojans staved off elimination again with a 9-6 win.

Next up on a Monday afternoon, the Trojans needed a doubleheader sweep of the Cinderalla Southwestern Spartans to claim the regional tournament title.

In the first game, NIACC’s offense showed up in a 12-7 win as the Trojans pounded out 14 hits, including three from Becker and two each from Glendinning, De La Cruz and Spencer Halloran.

NIACC starter Davis Bryan improved to 8-1 by allowing six runs in 5 2/3 innings.

Reed allowed one run in two innings of work before giving the ball to Christensen, who remember had logged five innings the day before against Iowa Central.

Christensen was up to the task again. He gained the save by not allowing a run in 1 1/3 innings of work.

Now, it was one game winner take all for the regional championship.

Hergert’s plan was to use closer Riley Pollard extensively in the final game.

Pollard, who was suspended in the second game of the tournament against the Spartans, was serving the final game of his suspension in the first contest against the Spartans.

However, Pollard came off the bus during the first game, which forced him to serve another game suspension and was unavailable for the title game.

Enter hard-throwing freshman right-hander Tony Grabowske, who had not thrown a pitch in the tournament and had not been on the mound in nine days.

“To be honest with you, I didn’t think I would touch a baseball at all in this tournament,” Grabowske was quoted as saying in the Globe Gazette in 2015.

Grabowske did more than just throw a pitch.

He held the Spartans to three hits and no runs in seven innings before giving way to Quinn Ahern, who completed the shutout in the 7-0 victory.

NIACC’s offense was ready for Spartan ace Ethan Westphal, who allowed six runs on 10 hits in 6 1/3 innings.

Hergert recalled that the Trojans were eager to face Westphal in the title game. The coach said they were watching on the top step of the dugout waiting to see what Spartan would walk down to the bullpen to start warming up.

When Westphal started making his way to the bullpen, the Trojans all responded with a “yes.”

The Trojans touched Westphal for one run in the first and one run in the third and knocked him out with three runs in the seventh inning.

Ahern held the Spartans scoreless in over the final two innings and the Trojans were celebrating their improbable regional title with a dog pile on the mound at Riverfront Stadium.

“I’ve never been able to celebrate like that on a baseball field,” Halloran was quoted as saying in the Globe Gazette. “I’ve had some good moments and winning a state championship in basketball (with West Fork) was great, but there is nothing like a dog pile.”

Astonishing. Stunning. Shocking.

“You could spend hours talking about that tournament run,” Hergert said. “The tournament had its stars but every single player on that team contributed at some point in that tournament.”

NIACC advanced to the NJCAA Division II World Series in 2015 by winning a best of three series against Southeast CC in the NJCAA North Plains District title in Beatrice, Neb.

The Trojans went 1-2 at the World Series in Enid, Okla. and finished with a record of 49-16. The 49 wins compiled in 2015 is a school record.

But the five most memorable of the 49 were the five straight elimination games in three days in Waterloo.

“I was talking to a few of the guys on that team just the other day,” said Hergert, who is now the assistant pitching coordinator for the Philadelphia Phillies, “and we were still talking about it. That’s really cool.

“That 2015 team put NIACC baseball on the map. You look at me, Pete (Lauritson) and Shawn (Schlechter), who are all now in pro ball. We aren’t here without that 2015 team.”

Unlikely. Far-fetched. Surprising.

2015 NJCAA Region XI tournament

NIACC 13, Iowa Lakes 9 (May 7, 2015)

Iowa Lakes 211 500 000 – 9 14 4

NIACC 403 101 22x – 13 16 2

Ryan Mose (5K, 3BB), Alex Cristobal (4) (3K, 1BB), Cameron Wagner (7) (0K, 1BB), Kris Johnson (8) (1K, 0BB) and Blake Rogers. Dan Loats (2K, 1BB), Ryan Huntington (4) (3K, 0BB), Riley Pollard (8) (1K, 0BB) and Zack Fricke. W – Huntington (5-1); L – Cristobal (2-5); S – Pollard (9).

2B – Hecmart Nieves (IL), Rogers, Luis Sterling (IL), Robbie Glendinning (N), Juan De La Cruz (N), Fricke. HR – Glendinning, Luke Becker, Fricke. Multiple hits – Rogers 4, Nieves 2, Sterling 2, Paul Howarth (IL) 2, Glendinning 3, Daniel Bradley 2, Becker 2, De La Cruz 2. Multiple RBIs – Sterling 3, Sean Alp (IL) 2, Troy Bullingham (N) 3, Jonathan Cruz (N) 2, Glendinning 2, Becker 2, Fricke 2.

Southwestern 8, NIACC 4 (May 8, 2015)

Southwestern 000 200 150 – 8 10 1

NIACC 000 004 000 – 4 4 1

John Bisignano (4K, 5BB), Zach Maskill (6) (1K, 5BB), BJ Anderson (7) (1K, 0BB), London Collins (7) (1K, 1BB), Jason Roberts (8) (5K, 0BB) and Rafael Eigenmann, Misael Lebron. Quinn Ahern (3K, 1BB), Pollard (8) (0K, 1BB), Kellen Reed (8) (0K, 1BB), Chad Christensen (9) (0K, 0BB) and Fricke. W – Collins (4-3); L – Ahern (8-3); S – Roberts (2).

2B – Lebron. Multiple hits – Samuel Vega (S) 3, Erich Gonzalez (S) 3, Lebron 2, Glendinning 2.

NIACC 15, Ellsworth 9 (May 9, 2015)

Ellsworth 040 014 000 – 9 7 3

NIACC 010 006 62x – 14 14 4

Willian Alvarez (11K, 3BB), Thomas Ruwe (6) (0K, 2BB), TJ Cardenas (6) (0K, 1BB), Axi Parra (6) (3K, 2BB), Steve Christopherson (7) (0K, 1BB), Max Gavin (8) (0K, 1BB) and Austin Douglas. Gerry Gonzalez (2K, 3BB), Casey Hall (6) (0K, 3BB), Reed (6) (2K, 6BB) and De La Cruz. W – Reed (3-1); L – Parra (1-3).

2B – Cody Collender (E), Jase Grant (E), De La Cruz 2, Cruz, Glendinning, Bradley, Becker. 3B – Alexander Rivera (E). Multiple hits – Douglas 2, Glendinning 3, Bradley 3, De La Cruz 3, Austin LaDoux (N) 2. Multiple RBIs – Collender 2, Tarran Beasley 2, De La Cruz 3, Glendinning 3, Cruz 2, Bradley 2, LaDoux 2.

NIACC 5, Southeastern 3 (May 9, 2015)

Southeastern 010 110 000 – 3 8 2

NIACC 000 310 01x – 5 7 0

Grant Spranger (6K, 3BB), Tanner Hart (7) (1K, 0BB) and Dan Ferguson. Loats (9K, 4BB) and Fricke. W – Loats (9-4); L – Spranger (6-3).

2B – Phil Velez (SE), Jesus Zapata (SE), Ferguson, Bullingham. HR – Fricke. Multiple hits – Velez 3, De La Cruz 2, Fricke 2. Multiple RBIs – Fricke 2.

NIACC 9, Iowa Central 6 (10) (May 10, 2015)

NIACC 300 001 101 3 – 9 12 2

Iowa Central 111 201 000 0 – 6 17 1

Huntington (3K, 1BB), Trent Roose (5) (0K, 0BB), Christensen (6) (5K, 1BB) and De La Cruz. JC Hatcher (0K, 1BB), Abrahan Flete (1) (11K, 3BB), Alex McCune (10) (0K, 2BB), Tyler Vaughn (10) (0K, 0BB) and Kirk McLeod. W – Christensen (4-0); L – McCune.

2B – Bradley, Bullingham 2, Jose Paulino (IC) 2, Junior Gomez (IC), Christian Montero (IC), Jason Galeano (IC). HR – Bradley 2. Multiple hits –Cruz 3, Bradley 3, Bullingham 2, McLeod 4, Gomez 3, Paulino 3, Montero 2. Multiple RBIs – Bradley 3, Fricke 2, LaDoux 2, Gomez 3.

NIACC 12, Southwestern 7 (May 11, 2015)

NIACC 010 072 02 – 12 14 2

Southwestern 000 222 010 – 7 11 3

Davis Bryan (2K, 5BB), Reed (6) (0K, 2BB), Christensen (8) (2K, 1BB). Maskill (1K, 3BB), Collins (5) (0K, 1BB), Anderson (5) (0K, 2BB), Drew Collins (5) (2K, 3BB), Zak Bassett (9) (1K, 0BB) and Lebron. W – Bryan (8-1); L – Maskill (1-8).

2B – Glendinning, De La Cruz, LaDoux, Zach Anderson (S) 2. HR – Matt Mayden (S), Omar Frias (S). Multiple hits – Becker 3, Glendinning 2, Fricke 2, Spencer Halloran (N) 2, De La Cruz 2, Eric Bueno (S) 3, Erich Gonzalez (S) 3, Anderson 3. Multiple RBIs – Glendinning 2, Bullingham 2, Fricke 2, Halloran 2, LaDoux 2, Frias 2.

NIACC 7, Southwestern 0 (May 11, 2020)

NIACC 101 000 401 – 7 11 0

Southwestern 000 000 000 – 0 6 1

Tony Grabowske (3K, 4BB), Ahern (8) (2K, 1BB) and Fricke. Ethan Westphal (6K, 3BB), Bisignano (7) (2K, 1BB) and Eigenmann. W – Grabowske (3-1); L – Westphal (3-4).

2B – Cruz, Bradley, Fricke, Bullingham. Multiple hits – Bradley 2, Becker 2, Vega 2, Bradley Lopez 2. Multiple RBIs – Halloran 3.

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