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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Tough Times For Top Teams

Allan Simpson        

The 2009 junior-college season is well underway, and it’s not gone according to form to date for two No.-1 ranked programs.

On the heels of winning the 2008 Junior College World Series, Grayson County (Texas) was ranked No. 1 in the official National Junior College Athletic Association 2009 pre-season poll, and No. 3 by PG Crosschecker. But the Vikings won just two of their first nine games and fell all the way out of Crosschecker’s first in-season ranking of the top 25 teams, posted Monday.

Meanwhile, Tennessee’s Walters State, PG Crosschecker’s No. 1 pre-season team (and No. 3 according to the NJCAA), has fared a little better, going 8-4, but all four losses came in the Senators biggest test of the season at the Chipola/Rahal-Miller JUCO National Classic. The Senators allowed 40 runs overall in the process of losing to four opponents ranked by Crosschecker. Walters State is ranked No. 6 in the first in-season JC ranking.

Grayson County coach Dusty Hart is disappointed with his team’s slow start, but acknowledged his team has become a target, that opponents are saving their best arms for the Vikings. “We’ve had a tough time living up to expectations,” he said. “But we’ve also played a tough schedule and it seems like every team has really geared up to play us.”

Hart also pointed out that the Vikings have lost four one-run games and have been hurt by the absence of powerful outfielder David Stewart, a transfer from Nebraska who was hit by a pitch in Grayson’s second game of the season and broke his thumb. Prior to the injury, the 6-foot-4, 240-pound Stewart had drilled three home runs—including two in the season opener. He is expected back in the Vikings lineup possibly this week.

Slow starts are nothing new for Grayson, which began the 2008 season at 12-8 only to close with a rush by winning 35 of its final 38 games, including all five games at the JUCO World Series.

Walters State, meanwhile, appears to be back on track. The Senators, who hammered 161 home runs a year ago on the way to posting a 55-9 record, have another power-packed lineup and sophomore first baseman Kyle Koeneman (.412, 5 HR), the team’s top home-run hitter a year ago, and sophomore catcher Jesse Wierzbicki (.405, 3 HR), the team’s top hitter, combined on eight homers in the team’s first 12 games. Koeneman led the nation in homers as a freshman, with 29.

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