One final loud out sent the eighth-ranked Blinn College baseball team roaring into the second round of the JUCO World Series.

Lucas Davenport pitched seven gutsy innings, Jake Kolkhorst recorded the final six outs on the mound – including a game-ending flyout deep to right-center field – and the Buccaneer offense did just enough to hold off No. 6 Crowder College 7-6 on Sunday to conclude the opening round of the NJCAA Division I Baseball World Series at Sam Suplizio Field in Grand Junction, Colo.

The Bucs are in the JUCO World Series for a second consecutive season and again opened the 10-team tournament with a victory.

“Just a really good game,” Blinn head coach Dusty Hart said. “I’ve known (Crowder head coach) Travis Lallemand for a long time and I consider him a really good friend. Honestly, when I saw the bracket, I didn’t want to play them because I knew one of us was going to get beat. But that’s baseball and that’s the way it shakes out, but they have a heck of a team and I don’t imagine they’re going anywhere any time soon.”

Crowder (seeded fifth) refused to go away all game long, going toe-to-toe with the sixth-seeded Bucs for nine innings of exciting baseball.

Cade Climie 2023-24
(Pictured: Blinn’s Cade Climie, right, celebrates with his team after hitting a home run against Crowder College on May 26, 2024)

The two teams traded runs in the third frame – a solo home run for Bucs sophomore Cade Climie in the top of the inning and an RBI single for the Roughriders in the bottom.

In the fourth, Blinn (43-16) jumped ahead again when sophomore Coy DeFury tripled to left before coming home on sophomore Tony Vernars’ sacrifice fly. Crowder answered in the bottom of the inning on a two-run homer off Davenport for a 3-2 lead, which would be its last of the game.

Davenport (8-2) was effective against a Roughrider offense that averages more than 10 runs per game. Although the tall right-hander said the high altitudes of Colorado dulled the sharpness of his breaking and off-speed pitches, he utilized both effectively while deploying a fastball that consistently registered in the mid-90-miles-per-hour range.

He allowed five earned runs on 11 hits but didn’t issue a walk while striking out five. He threw 69 of his season-high 106 pitches for strikes.

“First, I want to thank our hitters for going out and putting up seven runs,” Davenport said. “In a normal week, giving up five runs as a pitcher isn’t considered great, but when your hitters go out and put up seven, you get praised for it. I’m really thankful for them going out and hitting today. I felt good with my cutter and changeup, and the fastball command got better as the game went along.”

Lucas Davenport 2023-24
(Pictured: Blinn’s Lucas Davenport delivers a pitch during a game against Crowder College on May 26, 2024)

Davenport was also helped by a variety of defensive gems, including a sliding stop and putout from sophomore shortstop Tony Vernars, a pair of nifty stops from Climie at third base, and a phenomenal leaping catch at the wall for sophomore left fielder Marshall Lipsey.

The combined pitching and defensive efforts allowed Blinn’s middle-inning offensive surge to stand.

A single for sophomore Tanner Reaves opened the fifth inning and chased Roughriders starter Jackson Murry. Relief pitcher Karsen Richard entered and issued back-to-back walks that loaded the bases before throwing a wild pitch which scored Reaves and tied the game 3-3. 

A passed ball and another wild pitch hurried two more runs to the plate as the Bucs moved ahead 5-3.

Crowder answered with an RBI single in the fourth.

Climie hit his second homer of the day in the top of the sixth – a moonshot past the scoreboard in right-center field that made it 7-4.

Coy DeFury 2023-24
(Pictured: Blinn’s Coy DeFury slides safely into third base for a triple during a game against Crowder College on May 26, 2024)

“The altitude may have helped a little bit, but it was just a good day to hit,” said Climie, who has a team-high 17 homers this season. “The Bucs bend, but we don’t break. Competition doesn’t faze us.”
Blinn’s offense collected 13 hits and drew eight walks.

Climie singled along with his two longballs to finish with three hits, while Reaves had three singles. DeFury singled and doubled as part of a three-hit game, and fell a home run shy of the cycle. Sophomore Connor McGinnis added two hits for Blinn, including a double.

The Roughriders got to Davenport for one more run thanks to a solo homer in the seventh before Kolkhorst came on for the save opportunity. He retired the side in order in the eighth and worked his way out of a jam in the ninth to pick up his fifth save. He allowed an earned run on two hits with two strikeouts. 

Crowder led off the ninth with a double, and after Kolkhorst set down the next two hitters, the Roughriders cut their deficit to one with an RBI single. Crowder then put the tying run on first as Ethan Fender returned to the plate after homering in the seventh. He sent a 3-0 offering deep into right-center, but speedy sophomore center fielder Brandon Bishop raced to the wall to corral it and seal the Blinn victory.

Jake Kolkhorst 2023-24
(Pictured: Blinn’s Jake Kolkhorst delivers a pitch during a game against Crowder College on May 26, 2024)

“We knew coming out here that we weren’t going to face anything different from what we’ve faced all year,” Hart added. “Between our region and our early-season schedule, we’re battle-tested. We’re also sophomore-dominant with guys who like those moments to prove that they’re the guy.”

Up next, the Bucs will face the winner of College of Southern Nevada and Florence-Darlington Technical College at 7 p.m. on Tuesday.

Blinn has competed in intercollegiate athletics since 1903 and captured 47 NJCAA national championships since 1987.

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