As Josh Brystan slid into home without a tag to cut the lead to one, there was a feeling more runs were coming behind him.
And they did. The NJCAA National Team beat the Wellington Heat 7-3 in the 2018 NBC World Series semifinals. The Heat were the last Kansas-based team in the tournament.
The Heat scored all three of their runs in the third inning and were shut down for the rest. NJCAA’s Brooks Warren got the start but was pulled when the Heat got to him. Indigo Diaz came in and quelled the Heat’s bats. From then on, it was a matter of time before the momentum shifted.
NJCAA got on the board in the sixth when Brystan slapped a double to left. One batter and a steal later, Bryan Sturges brought Brystan home. The run was on. They scored three in the sixth, two in the seventh and one in the eighth and ninth.
Sturges said it’s just an honor to wear “USA” across his chest.
“You only get this once in a lifetime,” he said. “I had a couple chances, but didn’t get to wear it. So this means a lot to me.”
He got a good, long chance to wear it Friday night.
Following the first semifinal, first pitch was at 10:10 p.m., and the game didn’t finish until about 1:30 a.m. Sturges said for him it wasn’t hard to stay sharp through the overnight hours.
“I’m a big routine guy, so if I get in my routine, it could be 3 o’clock in the morning, 4 o’clock,” he said. “As long as I get my routine in, I can lock in and play for the guys that are on my team.”
Brystan said he thought the late start favored the national team. He might have been right as the NJCAA grew into the game and put the Heat out in the late innings.
“We thrive off that,” he said. “When we get back to the hotel, we’re all dead, but when we’re here, we’re playing ball. We only have two weeks together. We want to make the best of it.”
The NJCAA National Team will meet the Santa Barbara Foresters at 7 p.m. Saturday for the 2018 NBC World Series championship at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. Sturges said winning the tournament was always the goal.
Now it’s about turning that into a reality.
“It’s a lot of culture in this tournament and a lot of great players that have played through here,” he said. “It’s an honor to be here, but we aren’t just trying to make it to the final.
“We just got to throw strikes and compete. We’re a bunch of juco bandits.”