Vargas-Vila prepares for the mound
Pitcher cool and calm heading into West Florida's title game
CARY, N.C. -- Daniel Vargas-Vila will have the ball in his hands Saturday afternoon at the USA Baseball National Training Complex. History will be in his hands as well as the senior pitcher will have a chance to lead No. 4 West Florida to the first NCAA Division II national championship.
It would be easy for Vargas-Vila to feel a little overwhelmed by the looming moment. It would be easy to be shaken up by jitters as he prepares to pitch the biggest game of his life against No. 16 Winona State (42-17) at noon.
But on a sun-splashed Friday morning, Vargas-Vila is calm and cool, ready to guide the Argonauts over one last hurdle and put the exclamation point on a remarkable season.
“It’s a great honor, and it’s great that coach has the faith in me to pitch in a national championship game,” Vargas-Vila said. “I’m ready for it. I’m just going to go out there and pitch the way I have all season and not make the game any bigger than it has to be.”
Vargas-Vila (15-1) has been phenomenal this season, and really, there isn’t anyone else the Argonauts (51-9) would rather have on the mound for this game than the veteran right-hander out of Jacksonville.
He pitched the tourney opener against Southern Connecticut State last week, blanking the Owls for eight innings in a 13-0 win. He gave up two hits and struck out three. Not only will West Florida have its top pitcher on the hill, but its closer, Shane Waller, will be well-rested as he did not have to throw in Thursday’s 5-3 win against Mount Olive.
“Our rotation is set up as well as I could have drawn it up,” West Florida head coach Mike Jeffcoat said. "We will have our No. 1 pitcher on the mound and the best closer in the country rested and ready to go.”
Vargas-Vila is in his second season with the Argonauts after playing at Wallace State Community College-Dothan. The second-team All-American owns a 1.84 ERA and has thrown five complete games. He has racked up 81 strikeouts and has walked only 27.
Vargas-Vila has won his last 12 starts and has an ERA under 1.00 during that stretch. A year ago, he was 8-3 with a 4.16 ERA and struck out 64 while walking 19.
“I just try to stay focused and put our team in the best situation possible,” Vargas-Vila said. “I’m always trying to execute my pitches as best as I can and I feel like I’ve done a much better job of locating my pitches this season.
Vargas-Vila is part of a sensational pitching staff that owns a 2.73 ERA. It has racked up 483 strikeouts and has issued only 181 walks. Jason Postill (13-1) and Ben Hawkins (11-3) are the other two leaders of the staff.
“We all want each other to do well,” Vargas-Vila said. “We push each other to be at our best and the chemistry we have is ridiculous.”
And when you have pitchers on the mound with that much success under their belts, it makes it easy to play relaxed offensively.
Senior Greg Pron, one of the best hitters in West Florida history with his .430 average this season, will tell you as much.
“I'ts great having such a good group of pitchers," Pron said. "We’re not forced to do too much at the plate.We have time to get into a rhythm and get runs at our own pace. It makes a big difference."
The defense hasn’t been bad either, committing only 63 errors on the season.
“Pitching and defense is what baseball is all about,” Jeffcoat said. “You need to have timely hits and a great offense, but pitching and defense allows you to hold teams down. Pitching and defense is what has us knocking on the door of a national title.”
Vargas-Vila is looking forward to helping the Argonauts break down that door Saturday.
“It would be awesome to win the title,” Vargas-Vila said. “Winning a title would mean everything because we have worked so hard to get to this point and it’s never been done here before. We’ve been tested all season by one of the best schedules in the country and to cap the year off with a title is something I would cherish forever.”