Rich rivalry to continue on Saturday night in Batavia
Thursday, May 20, 2004
By Matt Cosentino
Ask any Philadelphia-area fan about the greatest rivalries in sports, and the conversation will inevitably include the Eagles and the hated Dallas Cowboys.
Yet over the last five years, Eagles-Cowboys hasn't even been the best rivalry between the two regions.
Gloucester County College and Dallas' Richland College have combined to win four of the last five NJCAA Division III World Series and enter this year's tournament as co-favorites.
The Roadrunners defeated the Thunderducks for the national crown in 1999 and 2000, with Richland returning the favor in 2002 and '03.
The rivalry continues on the first day of this year's eight-team, double-elimination tournament. Although Richland is currently ranked No. 1 in the nation and GCC No. 2, they face off right away on Saturday thanks to the pre-determined, rotating schedule of the World Series.
"That's just the way it is. It's a rotating schedule and we knew we'd be playing them," Roadrunners coach Rob Valli said. "I think it's a good thing that we play them right away. I like the idea of being fresh when we play them.
"It's a good, clean rivalry. We're very, very similar. The ability of our pitchers is similar, the ability of our position players is similar. There's a mutual respect there and we look forward to playing them."
Gloucester County hasn't played since beating Burlington County College on May 8 for its 12th Region 19 title in the last 13 years. Valli doesn't expect the layoff to be a problem, especially with the Roadrunners opening against a team that's beaten them three times in the last two national tournaments.
"I haven't really talked about it too much, because I feel we're prepared no matter who we're playing," he said. "There's always a lot of excitement when you have the No. 1 team in the country playing the No. 2 team. I don't feel like I have to give it any more hype than it already has."
While junior college teams get major face-lifts every year, one person who understands the GCC-Richland rivalry is Roadrunners sophomore catcher Justin Sims. The Gateway Regional High School product made the all-series team last year as a freshman, but watched his team struggle in two meetings against the Thunderducks.
"Our bats went silent," Sims said. "We maybe had four hits in the championship game and got shut out, and we only scored two runs in the first game we played against them. We hit well against everybody else, but for some reason we struggled against them. Hopefully we'll change that this week."
On Saturday, the Roadrunners will look to change their luck against Richland starter Matt Greanead (5-3, 4.17 ERA). The Thunderducks have two 10-game winners in Justin Fiske and Chris Taylor, but will instead opt for the battle-tested right-hander.
Gloucester County counters with sophomore lefty Pat Ford (5-1, 2.06).
"They don't have any guys who are going to knock the bat out of our hands," Valli said. "(Greanead) will be around 84, 85, he'll throw a curveball and he'll throw strikes. We've faced better pitching throughout the year than we'll face in this game, and I'm sure they're saying the same thing. We just have to hit."
Regardless of Saturday's outcome, GCC and Richland are both favored to be playing for the championship on May 27. Sims, who will head to a four-year school in the fall, is confident of making it that far and bringing the title back to Gloucester County.
"We had a real good region tournament," he said. "Everybody's hitting, one through nine, and our pitching's been pretty good. I think we're entering the tournament on a high note.
"If you had asked us a month ago if we'd be going to the World Series, I don't think any of us would've said yes, because we just weren't playing well. But we got hot at the right time and our confidence is up."