Surging RCTC baseball team primed for strong postseason run
RCTC, the No. 1 seed, opens play in the 10-team, double-elimination Region XIII Tournament today in St. Cloud
ROCHESTER — The Rochester Community and Technical College baseball team is not only the No. 1 seed heading into the Region XIII Tournament, but the Yellowjackets are also getting healthy heading into the postseason.
The top-seeded and surging Yellowjackers (26-12) have a bye in the first round of the 10-team, double-elimination event. They will face the winner of the Northland Community College and Mesabi Range play-in game at 4 p.m. today (Thursday, May 12) at Putz Field.
RCTC won a pair of 10-run games against Mesabi this season and did not face Northland.
“It’s a reward for what we’ve done throughout the year, but we’re not going to get all caught into that,” RCTC coach Clark Jones said of being the top seed. “We’ve got to get better each game and just go out and play our game.”
The stakes are high as the winner advances to the Division III NJCAA National Tournament.
“I like to feel we’re hitting on all cylinders right now,” Jones said.
RCTC was able to get some of its younger pitchers some quality innings during the season as T Palmer Mickelson of Rochester and lefty Carlos Ramirez were limited due to injuries. Those two are now healthy and ready to help with the postseason run.
“They grew up because of it and now we’re better because we’ve got those two pitchers back,” Jones said. “We feel like we’re in a pretty good position going into the tournament.”
Jones said left-hander Alec Dietl (5-1, 3.82 ERA) is likely to start the tournament opener on the mound. He would not commit to the rotation after the first game, but RCTC has plenty of options, including Stewartville’s Drew Simmons (5-3, 4.25 ERA) and Hayfield left-hander Luke Dudycha (3-2, 5.61 ERA).
The Yellowjackets have plenty of offensive firepower as they average 8.1 runs per game, are hitting .364 as a team and have a .452 on-base percentage.
Offensive leaders include third baseman Gabe Sepulveda (.422 average, eight doubles, five homers, 34 RBIs), Zebastian Bolduc (.480 average, 12 doubles, six homers, 42 RBIs), Lewiston-Altura grad Blake Schilling (.444, nine doubles, two homers, 38 RBIs, 17 stolen bases), designated hitter Yanseph Llanos (.404, eight doubles, two homers, 19 RBIs), shortstop Gustavo Gonzalez (.375, nine doubles, seven homers, 31 RBIs) and emerging catcher Carlos Martinez (.377, six doubles, six homers, 26 RBIs).
“One, we’re a very talented hitting group offensively,” Jones said of RCTC’s success. “We score runs and we put a lot of pressure on teams, especially early on in the game. … Number two, our pitchers have grown up and gotten better each and every game out.”
RCTC had a 14-game winning streak late in the season and finished winning 17 of its last 18 games. The Yellowjackets have won a lot of blowout games and Jones said the squad has to keep its defensive focus during postseason play.
“We kind of need to be challenged and sometimes our kids lose their focus when they’re not challenged so they drop their guard down a little bit,” he said. “We need to keep better focused on defense to win a championship. Our pitching is there, our hitting is there, our defense just needs to step up more.”
Other top teams in the field include No. 2 Central Lakes Community College, No. 3 Century College, No. 4 St. Cloud Technical and Community College and No. 5 Itasca Community College. St. Cloud is the defending region champion.
“There’s just some good teams out there and we have to bring our ‘A’ game,” Jones said.
Jones has been able to play a lot of players in pressure situations throughout the season while learning about the team. He hopes that game experience plays off with a national berth on the line over the next two weekends.
“It’s been a fun group to coach,” Jones said. “We have a pretty talented crew, but just to see them get better each and every game (is fun).”
RCTC will play at least one game on Friday. The top four teams from play this week advance to the District Tournament starting next Thursday in St. Cloud.
Region XIII schedule, details: https://sctccathletics.com/general/2021-22/releases/20220510k9tyv9