Santa Rosa Junior College baseball team set for playoffs

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Teamwork and grit. Those have been the keys for the Santa Rosa Junior College baseball team’s success in 2019, according to the Bear Cubs’ head coach.

“A lot of different guys have helped us win a lot of different games, so our biggest strength has been our toughness, our grinding and our ability to never give up and our ability to get better every day,” Ben Buechner said.

Now, the Bear Cubs will look to keep grinding in the playoffs as third-seeded Santa Rosa enters the California Community College Athletic Association’s NorCal Regional tournament.

They are matched up against 14th-seeded Modesto College, and the teams will open their best-of-three series at 2 p.m. Friday at Cooks Sypher Field in Santa Rosa.

The Bear Cubs can make an attempt at some redemption after dropping two of three games to the Pirates in a hotly contested series back in early March, when Modesto outscored Santa Rosa 14-13.

“It’s going to be the same. It’s the playoffs, so it’s going to be a dogfight; it’s going to be a grind. It’s going to be an opportunity to do something great,” Buechner said.

Buechner is in his first season as the head coach of the Bear Cubs after serving as an assistant coach for five years. He is a Sonoma State graduate who played on the 2010 SRJC team.

“It’s been an awesome experience. It’s a great group of guys and our coaching staff is the same. We’ve all been working together for a long time, so it wasn’t really skipping any beat in a sense. The program and the tradition of Santa Rosa Junior College baseball was started a long time before I was ever in here, so I’m just trying to hold up that tradition of the program and the culture,” he said.

Although Buechner is not “real big on singling guys out,” there have undoubtedly been some key players that helped this Bear Cubs team win 31 out of 40 games overall and go 18-6 to post the second-best record in the Big 8 conference.

Starting with Santa Rosa’s pitching, with standouts like freshman starter Noah Rennard and sophomore closer Devin Kirby, who have been some of the best in the state.

Rennard leads all pitchers in California with 105 strikeouts and is tied for first with 11 wins. Kirby enters the playoffs first in saves with 14 and holds the second-best ERA statewide at 1.03.

But their coach will be quick to remind you that they had some help.

“Our defense has done a good enough job of holding down teams as well as staying right in ballgames and giving us a chance to have Kirby come in and shut the door. Same with Noah. Our guys have done a good job at the plate to get us those wins,” Buechner said.

“Just in the Sierra game alone, his last game, our guys came in and the ballgame was tied. Noah was still in in the eighth inning and we got the one run across to get him that 11th win and went to Kirby to shut the door. That’s why it’s tough to single a guy out,” he added.

It has been a true team effort for the Bear Cubs so far, the coach said, and different players have come up big at different moments — whether it’s someone like Vinny Riggio, who played third base last year but is contributing as a pitcher this season; or Jo Bynum and Colin Prince, who lead the team in RBIs with 39 and 34, respectively; or Logan Douglas and Lawson Free, who hold the best batting averages for the Bear Cubs, both hitting at about .360.

Following Friday’s game, Santa Rosa will host the second game at 11 a.m. Saturday and, if necessary, the third and deciding game at 3 p.m.

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