GRAND JUNCTION, CO – All good things must come to an end.
And for the Walters State baseball team, that end came on Monday afternoon in a 14-6 loss to Crowder College in the JUCO World Series.
The Senators, who tied the program record for wins with 61 and finished with the highest winning percentage in school history at .897, ended the season at 61-7. They broke the school record for consecutive wins in a season with 31 and were the TCCAA/Region VII Champions as well as the Appalachian District Champions.
It was the 10th appearance in school history at the JUCO World Series.
“That is one of the best teams in Walters State history,” Walters State coach Dave Shelton said. “We went 61-7 and made another trip to Grand Junction. We have been fortunate to make it here three straight times, which no team in Walters State history has done.
“I am really proud of our guys. I am proud of the way they competed this year. They did things that no other team at Walters State has been able to do. It’s just a really special team, and I am really proud of them.”
The season didn’t come without adversity as the team battled through a COVID year that saw them have to shut down halfway through the season for a week due to multiple positive tests.
Then, Walters State fought through a TCCAA/NJCAA Region VII quarterfinal series with Cleveland State that ended when Matthew Ellis broke a 2-2 tie with a solo home run in the bottom of the eighth of the deciding game.
Walters State went on to the TCCAA/NJCAA Region VII Championship where they fell to the losers bracket and were forced to win three straight games, including back-to-back games against a nationally ranked Dyersburg team. Then, the team traveled to Georgia where they won two games against Andrew College to punch their ticket to the World Series.
Through the challenges, the bond between the team has been rock solid and all the success has led them to be a tight team on and off the field.
“This has been one of my favorite years in my baseball career,” Caleb McNeely said. “It’s just been one of the best teams I have played on. Coming here has been awesome. I have never played in front of this many people before. It has just been fun the entire year.”
As a team, the Senators were loaded with a double-digit number of players moving on to play college baseball at a four-year school.
Alberto Osuna was the most notable for Walters State this season. Osuna finished the year with 25 home runs and 107 RBIs, which put him 26 RBIs in front of anyone else in Junior College Baseball.
Osuna broke the program record for most runs batted in in a season and broke the record for hits in a single season with 106.
“When there are guys out there that he has the chance to drive in, he has done a really good job of it,” Shelton said earlier in the season about Osuna. “You don’t break the RBI record without guys in front of him getting on base. He’s such a good hitter and is a special player. He’s just like his brother when he was here. They are two of the best hitters to ever play on this field. I am going to miss next year not having an Osuna on my team.”
On Monday, the Senators ran into a Crowder team that was looking for blood. Crowder scored one in the first, five in the second and three in the third to set the tone.
However, the Senators never gave in and managed to slowly chip their way back into the game. In the first, after Ellis doubled with two outs, Osuna tied the game at one when he hit an RBI double that scored Ellis.
The Senators added another run in the second when McNeely singled home Noah Gent. In the third, Walters State continued their push when Ellis hit a moonshot over the fence in left for his 17th home run of the season. The Senators scored one more in the third when Andrew Ott singled home Cam Fisher.
In the fourth, McNeely singled to start off the inning and would come around the score on a wild pitch. Suddenly, it was a 9-5 ball game.
Unfortunately from there, Crowder poured it on and ended the game in seven innings. The final run of the season for Walters State came in the sixth inning when Jerry Hammons singled home McNeely.
McNeely led the team in the contest with three hits while Ellis and Osuna both added two.
“That’s a heck of a ball club,” Shelton said. “They are some tough outs. Obviously when you have a club that hits as well as they do, you can’t make mistakes and walk guys. That led to some big innings. You just have to tip your hat to Crowder. They put good swings on us all night long.”
As the final strike popped into the mitt on Monday evening and the Senators season came to an end prematurely, the final goal the team had of winning the program’s second World Series was not meant to be.
However, through it all, the 2021 Walters State baseball team is one for the record books.
“This experience as a whole has been amazing,” Ellis said. “I have never experienced anything like it. I know Coach Shelton has a good group of guys that will be anxious to get back. I know they’ll work in the fall and hopefully be back representing Walters State.”