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1976 KCKCC teamThe first and only KCKCC baseball team to play in the NJCAA World Series was made up of, front row, from left, Dave Wolf, Steve Pennock, Pat Young, Dave Hoffman, Lynne Sebree, Jeff Watson, Gregg Creten, Steve Rezin and Ken Harvey; second row, assistant coach Mike Haen, Larry Spiess, Bob Hagen, Jeff Franklin, Ed Hernandez, Kevan Mendon, Paul Pearce, Mark Harrison, Loren Breedlove, Lee Smith Kevin Fouts, Barry Davies, Bob Poje and head coach Dave Klein. (Photo from KCKCC)
1976 KCKCC team
When it came to the makeup of Kansas City Kansas Community College’s first and only team to reach the NJCAA World Series, the “Dottes” carried the load.
“One of the things I’m most proud is that 20 of the 21 players on that team were from Wyandotte County high schools – Bishop Ward, Washington, Wyandotte, F.L. Schlagle, J.C. Harmon, Piper and Bonner Springs,” remembers head coach Dave Klein. “We needed a little more pitching so we recruited Paul Pearce from SM Northwest but all the rest were from Wyandotte County.”
Not only were the 1976 Blue Devils the first KCKCC team to reach the National Junior College Athletic Association World Series in Grand Junction, Colo., it will be the first team to be inducted into the KCKCC Sports of Hall of Fame Saturday, Feb. 23.
That team will be joined by basketball All-American Stephanie Brown, Olympian Dinsdale Morgan and current KCKCC baseball coach Steve Burleson in induction ceremonies to be held between games of the KCKCC-Labette basketball doubleheader which will tip off at 6 p.m. and will follow the official 1 p.m. opening of the new baseball complex. Fittingly, the opening baseball foe will be Hutchinson, the team KCKCC had to beat in a three-game playoff en route to the World Series.
The trip to the World Series came in just the third season of KCKCC baseball.
“Dr. Jack Flint (KCKCC president) came to me and asked me if I knew anything about baseball because he knew I grew up in Brooklyn when the Dodgers, Giants and Yankees were all in New York,” said Klein, whose first and best move was adding Mike Haen as an assistant. An instructor in law enforcement, Haen had experience coaching youth and Legion baseball in the area and was named head coach when Klein resigned after the 1978 season only to be killed in the line of duty as a reserve police officer.
The Blue Devils were an immediate success, finishing 27-4 and 27-6 in the first two seasons in games played at Liondotte Park. In 1976, they moved to the new Eisenhower Field where they won the Greater Kansas City Community College championship while breezing to the Jayhawk East title with a 10-2 record.
Getting strong pitching performances from Ed Hernandez, Kevin Mendon, Jeff Watson and Mark Harrison, the Blue Devils defeated Neosho 3-2, Coffeyville 4-3, Independence 25-1 and Johnson County 9-1 to sweep the Region VI playoffs. A freshman, Harrison saved the win for Hernandez against Neosho, got the win over Coffeyville when Kenny Harvey singled in Lynn Sebree in the bottom of the seventh and then hurled a four-hitter in the title game.
That set up a best-of-three series against Hutchinson, which won the Jayhawk West in a playoff delayed five days by rain. “We were the host and the field at Eisenhower was wet so I was out at 8 o’clock in the morning raking the field,” remembered Klein. “The Hutch coach didn’t want to play. Some tempers flared but we went ahead and played.”
Which turned out to be a mistake. “We got no-hit,” said Klein of a 3-0 loss. Facing elimination, the Blue Devils rebounded with a 4-1 win behind Mendon, who struck out 10 while recording a KCKCC record ninth victory. Tied 1-1 in the seventh, a walk and singles by Jeff Watson and Steve Rezin gave KCKCC the lead and Harvey added a two-run single.
The Blue Devils took no chances in the final game the next day, building a 9-0 lead en route to a 9-2 rout behind Kevan Fouts’ two-run homer and two-run singles and Harrison’s seventh straight mound win.
Today, winning the East-West showdown earns a berth in the World Series but for many years it took winning the Central District over champions from Missouri, Oklahoma and Colorado. “They rotate the tournament every year and we were fortunate to host it,” Klein said.
The Blue Devils started well, defeating Florissant Valley (Mo.) 2-1 behind Kevin Mendon’s two-hit pitching and Fouts’ solo home run in the second. However, Eastern Oklahoma sent the Blue Devils into the loser’s bracket with a 4-3 win and it took a 5-hit shutout by Watson to oust Lamar (Colo.) 5-0 and reach the finals against an Eastern Oklahoma team that not lost.
Faced with winning twice, the Blue Devils also had to give up home field advantage because rain forced the finals to be moved to Johnson County – and then come from behind.
Down 2-1 in the bottom of the ninth, the Blue Devils got a single by Greg Creton and a double by Bob Poge and a little luck.
“We botched up a squeeze play but their catcher threw the ball into leftfield to tie it,” said first baseman Barry Davies. An inning later, Davies delivered a game-winning single after hits by Rezin and Fouts.
The Blue Devils spotted Eastern five unearned runs and a 5-0 deficit in the title game before Davies led a Blue Devil comeback with a two-run double off the fence in the fifth and a solo homer that sliced inside the rightfield foul pole.
“I thought it was going to curve foul but it stayed in,” said the righthanded hitting Davies. “It wasn’t one of my biggest shots.”
The Blue Devils tied it in the eighth on a Larry Spiess squeeze play that worked and then won it when Watson singled in the go-ahead run and got the pitching win. “That first one they sort of gave us but the second one we earned,” said Klein, who was without rightfielder Ken Harvey who was hospitalized. “We dedicated the games to him.”
The win came just in time to get several sophomores back to KCKCC for graduation. “The bus was just pulling into the Field House parking lot and the graduates were lining up so some of the guys said ‘Hey, we can still make graduation.’ “
“We wore our gowns over our uniforms,” said Davies, whose day was made even more memorable in that his name was announced by his uncle, Alton Davies, who was dean and vice president of Instruction and later college president. .
Ranked No. 17 nationally, the Blue Devils were 10-1 to win the eight-team World Series but it wasn’t to be. St. Clair, Mich., escaped two early inning KCKCC threats in the first round in a 4-2 win and Albernarie, N.C. eliminated the Blue Devils in the second round 6-0.
Five Blue Devils were named to the All-Region VI team, shortstop-pitcher Jeff Watson, who hit .331 and was 8-2 on the mound; second baseman Gregg Creten (.319), outfielder Ken Harvey (.362), designated hitter Barry Davies (.375 with 26 extra base hits) and pitcher Mark Harrison, who had a 1.62 ERA as a starter and No. l reliever.
Davies, Creten, Watson and Poje formed the starting infield with Poje moving to short and Pat Young taking third with Watson on the mound. Fouts handled the catching duties backed by Lynne Sebree. Rezin, Harvey and Spiess were the World Series outfielders with Young, and Steve Pennock also getting considerable playing time. Backup infielders included Lee Smith, Loren Breedlove, Dave Hoffman and Dave Wolf.
Mendon, Watson, Hernandez and Harrison had the most pitching stars with Bob Hagen and Paul Pearce in relief.
Alan Hoskins is the public information supervisor at Kansas City Kansas Community College.