Grossmont Griffins drop the ball in South Bay series

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Overlooking State Route 125, Noel Mickelson Field has seen its fair share of college and MLB-bound baseball players. Last week it witnessed San Diego County’s premier community college rivalry as Grossmont hosted Southern California’s tenth-best team, Southwestern College.

Unfortunately for East County fans, Grossmont (11-13, 5-7 Pacific Coast Athletic Conference) was on the wrong end of a six-game Jaguar (19-6, 11-4 PCAC) winning streak and dropped all three games.

Overlooking State Route 125, Noel Mickelson Field has seen its fair share of college and MLB-bound baseball players. Last week it witnessed San Diego County’s premier community college rivalry as Grossmont hosted Southern California’s tenth-best team, Southwestern College.

Unfortunately for East County fans, Grossmont (11-13, 5-7 Pacific Coast Athletic Conference) was on the wrong end of a six-game Jaguar (19-6, 11-4 PCAC) winning streak and dropped all three games.

Griffin head coach Randy Abshier said the rivalry dates back to the annual battles between his predecessor, 22-year veteran Ed “Skip” Olsen, who retired in 2004 with 516 career victories, and former SWC coach Jerry “Forty” Bartow, who retired last season after 39 years and 907 wins. Abshier said he also had a personal connection with first-year Jaguar head coach Jay Martel.

“It’s always been a little rivalry and so it continues,” he said. “Jay’s a good friend of mine. He coached me and he gave me my first assistant college job. I was at Southwestern so there’s a little rivalry there. Maybe it’s an East County/South Bay thing, but we like to compete with each other. Usually the winners pop off and the losers drop their heads and lick their wounds.”

Grossmont nearly capped SWC’s winning streak at four games last Thursday when it took the Jags to the wire in a gut-wrenching 5-4-road loss.

Star Jaguar closer and El Capitan alum Kevin Ginkel had an uncharacteristically rocky performance in the top of the ninth after entering the game earlier than usual. Ginkel is tied for the state lead with six saves and has a 3.75 K/BB ratio, but after recording three consecutive outs – a lineout followed by two strikeouts to end the eight and begin the ninth – he allowed his second earned run of the season after walking three Griffins and hitting another.  The sophomore said Grossmont’s hitters have an advantage over his other opponents – they played with and against him in high school.

“They kind of know who I am as a player, who I am as a person,” he said. “I think, more or less, they can pick up pitches a little bit better and they’re a little more aggressive than teams that I’ve pitched against so that makes it a little more challenging.”

Martel responded to Ginkel’s struggles with an equally unusual replacement. Right-handed pitcher Dylan McDonald sports a 2.91 ERA and 37 strikeouts in 46.1 innings, but made his first relief appearance of the season in a one-run game with the bases loaded, one out and Grossmont’s red-hot centerfielder, Keith Krueger, stepping into the box.

Krueger is hitting .353 on the season and had already totaled a walk, two hits and three steals in the game. But he lifted McDonald’s pitch to shortstop Steven Sherwood for an easy out. McDonald quickly went ahead in the count, 1-2, against Nathaniel Nguyen. Grossmont’s comeback was shattered when the right-handed freshman misread McDonald’s curveball and watched it tumble into the strike zone for a called strike to seal the Jaguar victory.

McDonald said he was relieved to silence the Griffins.

“They talk a lot during the game,” he said. “When we make them shut up at the end of the game and we get the W, they’re not talking anymore. That just feels really good.”

Even the umpire seemed to agree with McDonald after he gave Abshier an official warning for arguing balls and strikes in the top of the third inning. Jaguar starting pitcher Keith Kozak said his six inning, four strikeout win was aided by the incident.

“It just puts (the umpire) on our side, so it’s good,” he said. “I got so many calls from him that just shouldn’t (have been strikes), but he was on our side and it was a great thing… That’s the one thing you don’t want to do, make the umpire mad.”

Abshier said he was upset, but did not blame the umpire for the loss.

“I was just hot trying to defend my club a little bit,” he said. “Every once in a while a coach getting ejected, getting a warning or making a statement isn’t necessarily directed towards the umpire, it’s more directed towards ‘Hey, I’m trying to protect my player.’ Ultimately, it’s not the umpire’s fault whether teams win or lose.”

Helix High alum Ray Peterson is hitting .302 for Southwestern and is tied for sixth-place in California with 17 steals. He said beating the Griffins is a little more special because their roster is littered with five of his former Highlander teammates.

“It’s always good playing against your brothers,” he said. “I mean, we’re still brothers just different sides of the field. Anytime we get the chance to beat ‘em it’s always a good thing to talk about and brag about to them.”
Krueger, originally from Las Vegas, said he was surprised at the familiarity between Southwestern and Grossmont.

“I’m from Vegas, there’s one junior college,” he said. “Here all the high school kids who didn’t go Division I go JuCo, maybe try to find their way into a D-I spot or just D-II. It’s just shocking how everybody knows everybody.”

Grossmont’s lineup is littered with freshmen. First baseman Jorge Garcia, another Helix alum, has an outstanding .400/.456/.522 slash-line and Steele Canyon alum Tanner Perry has posted a .382/.398/.500 mark, but just two sophomores, Krueger and catcher Diego Reynoso, have logged more than 60 at-bats so far this season. Abshier said he hopes his young squad learns from the series.

“You’ve got 22 freshmen and a staff that really loves to teach and coach the game,” he said. “Dropping these games hurt us in the standings but hopefully in the long run it will pay off educationally on what we’ve got to do better and how to be older when we play them again next year.”

Abshier continued.

“What we really need right now is the winning experience,” he said. “Wins solve everything. Winning is the key to success for the future, not just the present. So what we’ve got to do is show this club that you can win and if you continue to win then that’ll spill over into the next season.”

Mt. San Jacinto College awaits the Griffins this week and Abshier said they are ready to get that winning experience.

“Hopefully we’ll be on the other end of it this week,” he said. “Maybe they start feeling good about themselves, because right now they don’t feel pretty good about themselves. They don’t feel good at all and they’ve got a sour taste in their mouths that they dropped three. San Jacinto watch out, because hopefully they come out with a vengeance.”

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