Story contribution by Mike Marzolf, Great Bend Tribune
Much of the talk about the opening round of the NJCAA World Series centers around first round matchups of the No. 1 team in the country against the defending champion as well as the No. 2 and 3 teams going head-to-head.
Sandwiched in between those games, the Barton Cougars, ranked No. 20, will be making their Juco World Series debut. Their opponent will be a formidable one as well.
20th ranked Barton will open the 2018 World Series against the No. 8 team in the nation, Jefferson (Mo.). The winner of the Region 16 tournament as well as the South Central District, will bring a glossy 53-10 record to the contest. Barton is 47-13.
That game, the third of the World Series, will take place at 4 p.m. central Saturday at Suplizio Field in Grand Junction. The game can be seen at on the web at NJCAATV.com or heard locally on KZRS, FM 107.9.
"We're thrilled to be here," Barton coach Brent Biggs said. "But we aren't satisfied. We want to win some games and stick around for a while."
The Vikings have been ranked in every poll since the fourth week of season in late March. The No. 8 ranking currently held is the highest of the season.
Leading the Jefferson offense is perhaps the most dangerous hitter in all of the NJCAA. Joey Polak leads the NJCAA in both home runs and RBI. The freshman transfer from the University of South Carolina has been a run-producing machine.
The first baseman has almost video game-like numbers in power. He has smacked 30 home runs and driven in 102 runs in 63 games.
Oh, and by the way, the 6-5, 210 slugger is hitting .464, seventh nationally. Throw in 43 walks and Polak's on base percentage is better than half at .554. Combine that with a .986 slugging percentage and Polak carries a ridiculous OPS of 1.540.
In early March, he hit four home runs in a 12-4 win at Three Rivers. He hit three bombs and drove in 10 in a 20-3 win at State Fair. In the Vikings' most recent South Central District clinching win over Delgado, 19-4, he homered and drove in five.
In seven post season games thus far, Polak has six home runs and 18 RBI. Jefferson is 6-1. If there is a weakness, it's his 56 strikeouts in 209 at bats – an almost 27 percent rate.
But Polak is not alone as a threat in the lineup. The top four in the order are all hitting .350 or better. Matt Turino leads off for the Vikings with a .467 on base percentage and a team-high 18 stolen bases. He has driven in 67 runs.
Justin Perkins is a dangerous No. 2 with a .383 average, a .500 on base percentage and 10 home runs. Perkins has 17 steals on the season, giving the outfield duo at the top of the order a combined 35 steals in 43 attempts.
Behind Polak, hitting clean-up, is Nick Hagendorn. The designated hitter has only two home runs, but has driven in 49 and is hitting .368 and tied with Polak for the team lead in doubles at 19.
Shortstop Dalton Doyle is hitting fifth and has some power as well. Doyle has 13 home runs and 66 RBI while hitting .324.
On the mound for the Vikings, Jason Rackers has been the ace. Rackers, a 6-6 right-hander, is 10-1 in 13 starts with a 2.68 ERA. Rackers has 95 strikeouts and just 22 walks in 74 innings.
Justin Hicks, also a righty, improved to 10-0 in the South Central clinching win over Delgado. He has an ERA of 3.11 in nine starts this season.
Riley Boyd has 12 starts and despite a nice 3.04 ERA is just 6-4. Josh Ray, a lefty, has nine starts, is 6-2 with a 4.05 ERA but has the best strikeout rate on the team with 60 K's in just 46 innings.
Hunter Swift, a left-handed closer, leads the Vikings with six save in 11 appearances and a 2.19 ERA out of the bullpen. Austin Cheeley, throwing from the right side, has three saves with a 2.11 ERA in 16 appearances.
Barton has been led at the plate this year by catcher Brett Bonar and outfielder Kaden Fowler. Although Fowler missed a portion of the Region VI tournament, he did return in the final win over Cowley.
Bonar is hitting .413 with 11 home runs and 67 RBI – all tops for the Cougars. Fowler has eerily identical numbers as Bonar, hitting .407 with 11 homers and 63 RBI.
Great Bend product Brady Michel is hitting .333 with eight home runs and 54 RBI. He currently holds the school record for doubles in a season with 29, one more than Fowler's current total of 28.
Carson Engroff was on fire during the Region VI event, earning co-MVP along with Bonar. For the season, the Barton first baseman is hitting .364 and has driven in 46 runs.
Outfielder Brett Huelsmann was injured in Wichita and his availability in Grand Junction is not yet know. He is hitting .319. Also above. 300 with regular playing time is Chandler Kelley at .313 and Jared Maneth at .311. Barton's only two regulars under .300 are Dawson Pomeroy (.254) and Paul Claassen (.296) and those two have combined to drive in 67 runs.
On the mound, the Cougars bring one of the top arms in the nation in 6-4 sophomore left-hander Josh Hendrickson. He is 11-2 in 15 starts with a 2.17 ERA to go with 120 strikeouts and just 17 walks. His 120 Ks are fourth best in the NJCAA. The 11 wins are sixth best the ERA 11th among pitchers with double-digit starts.
"We just need to keep having fun," Coach Biggs said. "When we do that we play loose and stay aggressive."
Awaiting the victor will be the winner of the battle between defending NJCAA Champion Chipola (43-16) and the No. 1 team in the country, Walters State (56-6). The two losers will play in an elimination game.
Fans unable to make the trip can follow the Cougars with Doug Bender play-by-play on local radio 107.9FM or streaming online courtesy of Rocking M Media. The JUCO World Series and NJCAA TV will be providing live stats and video broadcasting of all tournament games. For complete coverage links of Barton's run in the tournament, visit BartonSports.com or visit the official Alpine Bank JUCO World Series web site. Additionally, behind the scenes photos and videos can be found following the Cougars through social media, search "BartonSports" on Facebook and/or Twitter.
NJCAA World Series
At Suplizio Field in Grand Junction, Colo.
Saturday May 26 (Times are CDT)
G1 – Temple (35-23) v 18 Southern Idaho (50-10), 10 am
G2 – 2 Iowa Western (53-5) v 3 Chattahoochee Valley (48-10), 1 p.m.
G3 – 20 Barton (47-13) v 8 Jefferson (52-9), 4 p.m.
G4 – 14 Chipola (43-16) v 1 Walters State (56-6), 8:30 p.m.
Sunday, May 27
G5 – 20 Monroe (36-14) v 6 San Jacinto (48-13), 11 am
G6 – Temple/So Idaho loser v I Western/Chattahoochee loser, 3 p.m.
G7 – Barton/Jefferson loser v Chipola/Walters loser, 8:30 p.m.
Monday, May 28
G8 – Barton/Jefferson winner v Chipola/Walters winner, 11 am
G9* – Winner G6 v Winner G7, 3 p.m.
G10 – Temple/So Idaho winner v I Western/Chattahoochee winner, 8:30 p.m.
Tuesday, May 29
G11* – Loser G5 v Loser G8, Noon
G12* -- Loser 10 v Winner G9, 4 p.m.
G13 – Winner G8 v Winner G5, 8:30 p.m.
Wednesday, May 30
G14* - Winner G11 v Loser G13, 4 p.m.
G15 – Winner G10 v Winner G13, 8:30 p.m.
Thursday, May 31
G16* - Winner G14 v Loser G15, 4 p.m.
G17*-Winner G14 v Winner G12, 8:30 p.m.
NOTE – If 3 teams remain at Game 18, the team with the most games played received a bye to Game 19. In the case of a tie, a coin toss will determine the bye.
Friday, June 1
G18* – TBD v TBD, 8 p.m.
Saturday, June 2
G19* – TBD v TDB, 8 p.m.