MOUNT CARMEL -- Having claimed the Region 24 crown on Monday with a 9-1 victory over Olney Central College, Wabash Valley College advanced to the Northern District Tournament, which they'll host this year from May 17-19.
The tournament will pit the Warriors against Rend Lake College in their first game of the tournament on Friday at 3 p.m. The No. 1 ranked Warriors (52-2) swept Rend Lake (23-20) in their season series, defeating Rend Lake 13-3, 19-5 and 16-0 in the three games. If the Warriors play quality baseball, they should defeat Rend Lake pretty handily. In tournament play nothing's a given though, Wabash Valley did just have their near record-breaking 49-game win streak snapped on Monday, offering a glimpse of vulnerability.
With a victory, Wabash Valley would face the victor of Triton (30-17) and No. 9 ranked Iowa Western (45-8). The victor of that matchup figures to be the Reivers (Iowa Western), setting a rematch in the very situation the two were in just a year ago. Iowa Western won that matchup 6-1, so there'll be a bit of a revenge factor at play in such a potential matchup. This hypothetical game would be played on Saturday at 12:30 p.m., with the losers bracket game on Saturday coming at 3:30 p.m.
The Reivers bats are led by their tandem of sophomore Caleb Balgaard (.444 BA, four homers, 63 RBIs) and freshman Jaden Rolffs (.496 BA, 12 homers, 63 RBIs). Rolffs' batting clip positions him third on the national list, positioned behind just Wabash Valley's Cael Baker (.516 BA) and Seminole State's Layne Hartsfield (.506 BA).
Pitching wise, the Reivers boast one of the best rotations in JUCO, with a three-headed attack of lethal arms with near sub 2 ERA numbers. Their ace, freshman Braedyn McLaughlin (7-1). The righty boasts a lowly 1.72 ERA in 52 1-3 innings of action with 91 strikeouts. He's allowed just 22 hits on the season. Next in their rotation order is freshman Jared Simpson (7-0). The lefty's made 11 appearances for the Reivers and boasts a 1.89 ERA and has fanned 62 batters in his 47 2-3 innings of work. Lastly, sophomore Jordan Bonk (7-0). The right-hander sits with an ERA just over 2 (2.08) in his 43 1-3 innings this year.
Once you get through their rotation, the Reivers have in store possibly the best closer in JUCO, sophomore Trystan Kimmel. Kimmel (1-1) has appeared in 22 games for Iowa Western this year and has converted 15 save opportunities. He boasts a lowly 0.35 ERA with an incredible 8-1 strikeout to walk ratio (40-5).
Will the Warrior bats be up to the challenge? They'll need strong contributions from Baker (.516 BA, 24 homers, 96 RBIs), who holds the Triple Crown of JUCO, as well as other bats such as sophomore center fielder Noah Myers. Myers (.392 BA, five homers, 50 RBIs, 84 runs) set a Wabash Valley record for stolen bases in a season (74) and leads the nation in stolen bases. His .526 OBP illustrates his ability to get on base and get into scoring position to setup other Warrior hitters in the lineup.
Wabash Valley's rotation may be one of the only ones in the country with a claim to be better than Iowa Western's. Another lethal trio paves the way to their success on the mound. Sophomore right-hander Ryan O'Connell (1.93 ERA, 91 Ks) highlights the way. O'Connell's (11-1) the most frequently seen Warrior on the mound and has made 13 starts on the season, throwing 74 2-3 innings in his 15 total appearances. Freshman southpaw Cameron Tullar (1.60 ERA, 99 Ks) resides as the No. 2 pitcher in the rotation. Tullar (9-0) has enjoyed a fantastic season in his 62 innings of work, showcasing his nice breaking balls. The final Warrior starter, freshman Antoine Kelly Jr. (1.27 ERA, 104 Ks). Kelly (9-0) has attracted Major League scouts from all over to Mount Carmel to witness the flamethrowing southpaw from Chicago. His four-seamer highlights his arsenal, but boasts a changeup and slider that he'll throw as well. He averages an astounding total of nearly 19 strikeouts per nine innings of action.
Whomever makes it out of the bracket will face off in the District Championship game on Sunday at noon. A second game for the championship will come at 3:30 p.m. if necessary.