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Away games in El Centro are no place like home for SWC baseball team Mary York | Fri, Mar 29 2013 01:08 PM

Two hours outside of Chula Vista, over a mountain range and through a desert, a lone baseball field hides tucked away behind the small campus of Imperial Valley College. The bleachers are as dusty as the diamond and the ground for miles around is as flat as a line drive through the gap. But for the Southwestern College baseball team, it is as good a place to play ball as any.

The three-game series against IVC last week, which SWC swept up like a dust bunny, is likely to be one of the most unique of the Jaguars’ season.

Despite the abrasive heat and blustery winds, fans lined the field with umbrellas, coolers and lawn chairs on Saturday to watch the final game of the series.

The entire feel of the game was radically different from most conference matches. Noticeably present was a casual atmosphere, reminiscent of neighborhood sandlot skirmishes. That may have been due in part to the quality of the competition, which struggled to put numbers on the scoreboard all week. But the friendly banter between SWC’s players in the dugout and IVC’s first base coach and the mariachi music that blasted loudly between innings certainly added to the summer-picnic feel of the afternoon.

It was a quick picnic.

Freshman Pitcher Juwun McCray kept the innings short and sweet on Saturday, pitching a combined one-hit game with fellow freshman Matt DeRosier.

McCray has done quite a job during weekend games following the team’s leading pitchers — Kiki Medina and Agustin Lopez — both of whom leave big cleats to fill.

Despite the strong defense and the easy match-up against IVC’s ball club, the Jags still found themselves struggling at the plate. Everyone in the line-up can hit, but SWC players tend to leave each other marooned on base.

John Balajadia, who crossed home plate for the first time this season during the ninth inning on Saturday afternoon, said the team has talent but no timing.

“We’re just leaving guys stranded on the base,” he said. “We get hits but not key hits when we need them.”

Playing in El Centro did not help the effort, he said, claiming the heat can be draining.

Still in early spring, the valley already breaches 80 degrees during the day and there is little point in hoping for relieving breezes. The strong winds typical of the region have a warm smack.

Nicholas Quintero, who played first base during the last inning of Saturday’s game, said the heat only affects the players who let it.

“It just comes down to your mental approach,” said the freshman glove. “If you make it a thing that’s going to affect you it will. It comes down to the individual.”

But for Quintero there really is no place like home.

“You know how the field plays,” Quintero said of the SWC field, dubbed Jaguar Junction. “Anywhere else you have to make adjustments to the field or to circumstances like wind.”

If for no other reason than the commute, the IVC game series will be a memorable one. The two-hour drive, which begins at 8 a.m., guarantees the team a little pre-game bonding as they file onto a charter bus to make the trek to El Centro.

“I say we keep the bus pretty lively,” said seasoned catcher Cody Sos. “The only thing about long rides is that you can get tight on the bus so you have to make sure to get warmed up and get into your pre-game routine as if you were playing at home.”

And playing in El Centro is not like playing at home.

The three wins against IVC last week and a win against Mesa College on Tuesday makes the Jag’s season tally a flattering 9-3 so far. IVC is not SWC’s strongest competition this season; many of their players are greener than their field. They lost to the Jags 8-6, 3-0 and 6-0.

IVC players put up a valiant effort if not a winning one.

“They’re a ball club like us,” said Quintero of the IVC team. “They have their ups and downs; we have our ups and downs. As a ball player to another ball player, I respect the team. We played hard and we got the W. That’s all that mattered.”

The team has two more games against Mesa College this week before hitting San Diego City College again.

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