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Steele leads Chipola in JUCO World Series

Lefty fans a tourney-best 12, pitches into the ninth
Special to MLB.com

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. -- With two outs, the bases loaded and a full count in the top of the sixth inning Friday night, Evan Steele fidgeted on the mound. The Chipola College (Fla.) pitcher circled behind the rubber, put his fingers to his mouth and wiped several times. Then he threw the best pitch thus far at the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series -- a devastating curveball -- and ended the inning with a strikeout.

In a tournament full of hitting, it was Steele's spectacular pitching that lifted the Indians past San Jacinto College-North (Texas) 7-1 at Suplizio Field. With Chipola's victory, Game 19 will be a winner-take-all championship rematch between the two teams in the double-elimination tournament. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. MT today with a title on the line.

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. -- With two outs, the bases loaded and a full count in the top of the sixth inning Friday night, Evan Steele fidgeted on the mound. The Chipola College (Fla.) pitcher circled behind the rubber, put his fingers to his mouth and wiped several times. Then he threw the best pitch thus far at the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series -- a devastating curveball -- and ended the inning with a strikeout.

In a tournament full of hitting, it was Steele's spectacular pitching that lifted the Indians past San Jacinto College-North (Texas) 7-1 at Suplizio Field. With Chipola's victory, Game 19 will be a winner-take-all championship rematch between the two teams in the double-elimination tournament. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. MT today with a title on the line.

"Throw him a curveball, basically, and just had to gut it up there and hoped that he swung," Steele said of his strikeout pitch. "That was win or lose, right there."

The combined ERA of the tournament field before Friday's game was 9.09, but Steele did his part to bring that number down. The sophomore pitched into the ninth inning and threw five hitless frames. He scattered three hits and six walks with a tournament-best 12 strikeouts. He worked deep into counts, threw 143 pitches, and struck out the side in the top of the eighth.

Steele broke down after the game, saying the emotional weight of what was likely his final collegiate start was heavy.

"My emotion isn't really about how well I did, or how poorly I did, or how many pitches I made," Steele said. "It's more about this team, this brotherhood and it's -- for me it's emotional knowing that this is the last time I'm gonna get to pitch for them. I got a bunch of brothers on this team and I'm going to miss every single one of them."

As Steele shut down the Gators (48-17, 5-1 JUCO), the Indians (50-9, 5-1) built their lead with the same timely hitting that helped them earn a shot at the title.

Chipola stranded three runners in the top of the first, but in the second inning, a pair of two-out hits set up Jacob Silverstein's two-run single through the left side.

Chris Clayton, with two outs in the third inning, slapped an RBI single to right field, extending the Indians' lead to 3-1.

After two scoreless innings, Trey Dawson blasted a two-run home run early in the bottom of the sixth, and Clayton drove in another run on a safety squeeze in the seventh. Reynaldo Rivera's solo shot in the eighth punctuated the rally and put the Indians up 7-0.

The home run brought the tournament's cumulative total to 62, tying the the record set in 2009. It's the biggest power surge at the JUCO World Series since BBCOR bats were made mandatory prior to the 2013 season.

San Jacinto coach Tom Arrington is chasing his first championship win with the Gators. He said he conserved arms in the bullpen once the game got out of reach, and that he's confident the Gators can hit better against a different pitcher.

"I thought we barreled some balls at the end, and our guys left on a positive note," Arrington said. "Our hitters did that, just thinking, 'OK, let's see what else they got coming at us and let's approach tomorrow's game with somebody new.'

"I don't think they'll throw Steele again," Arrington added, laughing. "At least, I hope not."

Matt Meyer is a contributor to MLB.com based in Denver.