Five Shawnee athletes star in JUCO world series
Qualifying for the Junior College World Series is an accomplishment very few programs in the country get to experience every season.
The Shawnee area had five athletes competing in Grand Junction, Colo., between May 26 and June 2, all are SM Northwest alumni.
One of them, Iowa Western Community College pitcher Jake Thompson, has spent two years in the JUCO World Series since being in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
Last season, the Reivers fell short, finishing in third place, but this year was a different story.
After dropping its first game to San Jacinto, their eventual opponent in the final, Iowa Western CC squeaked out a nail biter in the championship game, winning 6-5 with a ninth-inning rally against San Jacinto. The Reivers’ five- game win streak finished the most successful season in program history.
“We didn’t give in and after we got on a roll in the World Series, we just kept it going,” Thompson said. “We weren’t about to go home without that trophy.”
Thompson took the mound against Western Nevada on May 28 and put together a solid six-inning performance, including four hits and three runs in his worked innings.
Throughout his high school career, Thompson was a flamethrower trying to blow everybody by with his low 90s fastball. Now he’s developed more control of his game, especially his breaking ball pitches.
“It’s not about strikeouts, it’s about keeping your pitch count down, get ground balls, get quick, easy outs and keep your defense off the field as long as possible so they can get you runs,” Thompson said.
For his career as a Reiver, Thompson notched an 18-3 record and helped lead them to six consecutive appearances at the JUCO World Series. Thompson will look to have a chance for the front part of the rotation at Western Kentucky next fall.
However, Thompson was not the only former Cougar at the event. Adam Giacalone, a recent draft pick of the Milwaukee Brewers, also made an appearance with the Neosho County Community College ball club.
The NJCCA All-American was instrumental in getting the Panthers to their second appearance in Grand Junction, Colo. Like his first year in Chanute, Giacalone finished with remarkable numbers at the plate, including a .396 batting average. He also led the team in their 49-16 season with 12 home runs and 59 RBIs.
“We went 1-2, but the experience there was amazing with the fans,” Giacalone said. “We were a big family, so to just spend two weeks together was awesome.”
Another SM Northwest alumni, Nick Feighner, transferred in this season for Neosho and instantly became one of the principal contributors for the team, including starting all 55 games he appeared in. Feighner batted .299 on the season with four home runs and 20 RBIs and said he enjoyed his time at Neosho and found himself renewing his passion for the game.
“If I could go back in high school and pick where I wanted to go, I definitely would want to go there right out of high school,” Feighner said.
Former teammates of Feighner and Giacalone were also on the Panther lineup this season. Matt Milner appeared in 22 games with a batting average of .214. Jacob Walters also had a redshirt year in Chanute.
Through all the ups and downs, the former Cougar athletes enjoyed being on the biggest stage possible before moving on in different directions in their baseball careers.
“It was great to see everybody from back home and be in that setting,” Thompson said.