“Don’t change anything,” Hart recalled of his demand.
The eighth-ranked and fifth-seeded Buccaneers took their first-year skipper’s words to heart Sunday, playing exactly the type of baseball that carried them to the World Series in the first place.
Blinn smashed three home runs, played some small ball with six singles and four walks, and also added a double and a triple while two pitchers combined for nine effective innings on the mound.
The collective effort paved the way to a 9-3 victory over 10th-ranked and sixth-seeded Gaston College in the first round of the national tournament at Sam Suplizio Field in Grand Junction, Colo.
(Pictured: Blinn’s Sam Crain pitches against Gaston during the NJCAA Divsion I Baseball World Series on May 28)
“Any win out here is a big one,” Hart added. “When we play the game the way we know how to and the way it’s meant to be played, wins will come. I was proud of our effort today.”
Sunday’s victory was the Bucs’ first in the World Series since the team’s previous trip to Grand Junction in 2014.
Sophomore catcher Ian Collier got the scoring started for Blinn (45-13) with a solo home run in the bottom of the second inning. Gaston (49-12) would take a 2-1 edge over the Bucs in the third frame after getting to Blinn sophomore pitcher Sam Crain, but the lead was short-lived.
(Pictured: Blinn’s Ian Collier hits a home run against Gaston during the NJCAA Divsion I Baseball World Series on May 28)
In the home half of the inning, back-to-back walks for freshmen Jake Kolkhorst and Brayden Sprencel got the Bucs going, and one out later, a double steal put the runners at second and third base. Freshman Brandon Bishop followed with an RBI single to tie the game before freshman Tanner Reaves slapped an RBI single of his own. Collier stepped to the plate and singled to load the bases, and sophomore Ryan Scott sent a line-drive double to the wall in right-center field that cleared the bases and gave Blinn a 6-2 lead they would never relinquish.
“(Gaston starting pitcher Derek Vartanian) started me off with a slider, and then went with a fastball that I swung through,” Scott said. “So, he showed me both pitches, and with two strikes I told myself to be ready for either pitch and be on time to drive one of them. He showed me that slider again, and I saw it as soon as it came out of his hand, and I just put a good swing on it.”
(Pictured: Blinn’s Ryan Scott hits a three-run double against Gaston during the NJCAA Divsion I Baseball World Series on May 28)
“Pretty big moment right there,” added Hart. “Pretty big moment.”
Freshman Coy DeFury followed with a single that sent Scott to third, and after DeFury was picked off first, he extended the subsequent rundown long enough to let Scott steal home for a 7-2 cushion.
Crain (7-2) followed the Bucs’ offensive eruption with two more scoreless frames to end his day and earn the victory. He allowed the two earned runs on five hits with four walks and 10 strikeouts while throwing 111 pitches.
He got out of a bases loaded jam in the fifth with back-to-back strikeouts following a mound visit from Collier. Crain pumped his fists and shouted in celebration after getting Gaston’s Andrew Muraco to swing at strike three to end the threat.
“It was a big stage,” Crain said. “I felt like most of my pitches were working today, and I really just had to battle once I started getting a little tired. I didn’t want to treat this game differently than any other game I’ve pitched in this season, so I just needed to make my pitches, execute, and trust the guys behind me..
DeFury added a solo shot in the bottom of the fifth inning and Collier went yard for a second time when he led off the bottom of the seventh with a solo blast to left.
“We’re going to give up some runs, but this is a special offense we have that can come right back and answer in a big way,” Collier stated. “We’re just trying to win every inning. We want to win every pitch, win every inning, and get after our opponent on both sides of the ball, and we want to back each other up whether it’s at the plate or on the mound.”
(Pictured: Blinn’s Coy DeFury celebrates after hitting a home run against Gaston during the NJCAA Divsion I Baseball World Series on May 28)
Collier finished with three hits, three runs, and two RBIs, while DeFury followed with two hits, a walk, a run scored, and an RBI.
Bethel tripled for the Bucs.
After Crain’s departure, freshman relief pitcher Hunter Bond closed out the victory with four innings of one-run ball. He allowed two hits, one walk, and punched out three Rhinos for his fifth save of the year.
(Pictured: Blinn’s Hunter Bond pitches against Gaston during the NJCAA Divsion I Baseball World Series on May 28)
Gaston scored its final home run on a solo homer in the top of the ninth.
Blinn will now have an off day Monday before resuming play in the third round. The Bucs will take on the winner of ninth-seeded Shelton State Community College and third-seeded Wabash Valley College at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, May 30.
Blinn has competed in intercollegiate athletics since 1903 and captured 43 NJCAA national championships since 1987.