Jeff McKenzie came close to winning a state championship last summer with the El Dorado Post 119 Senior Legion team but the bid fell short.
Now he knows how it feels to win a state title. He and his teammates at Stockton’s Delta College won the recent California Community College Athletic Association state baseball title with McKenzie front and center.
The Mustangs defeated defending champion Ohlone College 4-1 at Bakerfield’s Gay Sports Complex behind the El Dorado Hills resident and former Oak Ridge Trojan, who pitched a complete-game, seven-hitter. Ohlone’s lone run was unearned.
The left-hander also picked off four Renegade runners and, for his efforts both on the mound and defensively, he was voted the tournament MVP.
After going 8-0 for the El Dorado Legion team last summer, McKenzie couldn’t have picked a better time to earn his next victory. As Delta’s everyday starting center-fielder, McKenzie had logged a grand total of five innings on the mound — not the kind of experience title-game starters usually have.
After the Mustangs beat the Renegades 5-3 earlier that day to set up a winner-take-all afternoon finale, McKenzie was surprised to get the call.
“We were all shaking hands and the pitching coach came up to me and said, ‘You’re starting the next game.’ I said back to him, ‘Starting in center field?’ and he said, ‘No, starting on the mound,’” McKenzie said.
“I was dumbstruck and couldn’t believe I was pitching the championship game. It took me 20 minutes into warmups to realize I was pitching.”
McKenzie settled in once the game started. He struck out the first four batters he faced and fanned seven overall in his first-ever collegiate start.
“In warmups all my pitches were on, I was hitting my spots and felt great. On the mound I wanted to throw first-pitch strikes and go from there. My stuff was working and they (Ohlone) were swinging at it,” McKenzie said. “I was running off adrenaline and I wasn’t going to let my team down. I was going to throw until my arm fell off.”
The last pitch of his 105-pitch masterpiece induced a swinging strikeout — after which the team’s normal center-fielder found himself in the center of attention.
“I threw up my glove as high as I could, turned to look at my team and the whole team was sprinting toward me,” McKenzie said. “My choice was either move or get tackled, and the whole team dog-piled on top of me.
“That last out is still ingrained in my memory. It feels amazing and even after we won, it took me a day to realize what we just did. It’s the first title for Delta since back in the ’50s when they were Stockton College,” he said.
While McKenzie will play this summer for the Sacramento Scorch, he’s currently busy deciding where to take his career next as the phone calls pour in. The University of California, Davis, is interested and this week he’ll visit California State University, East Bay, before traveling to Georgia to talk to Armstrong Atlantic University.
“Some programs heard about me being an outfielder but now have also heard I pitch — some have heard about the pitching but found out I also play outfield,” McKenzie said.
But just as Delta found out in its hour of need, going with McKenzie is a good choice.