Vargas-Vila hurls West Florida to title
Senior pitcher fires eight strong innings to lead way to victory
CARY, N.C. -- Sleep was hard to come by for Daniel Vargas-Vila on Friday night. But can you blame the guy? He was going to pitch for West Florida in the NCAA Division II national championship game on Saturday afternoon.
“I didn’t sleep much at all. I was tossing and turning all night,’ Vargas-Vila said. “I probably only slept for like three hours.”
The lack of sleep didn’t matter. Vargas-Vila was running on adrenaline, and on a sunny and warm afternoon at the USA Baseball National Training Complex, the senior right-hander kept Winona State in check
He threw eight innings and allowed two runs on 10 hits while striking out seven as he led the Argonauts to a 12-2 win over the Warriors and earned co-Most Outstanding Player honors in the process.
“It’s great to get that award,” Vargas-Vila said. “I worked hard to get to this point and I owe a lot of the credit to my teammates. We got big hits and the defense behind me was solid.”
Vargas-Vila gave up two hits right out of the gate but settled down and took care of business against No. 16 Winona State (42-18). He rang up two strikeouts in the second as the Warriors went down in order and breezed through a 1-2-3 inning in the sixth as well.
“Once I threw my first strike, I felt fine,” Vargas-Vila said. “I was overwhelmed with honor to play in this game. I want to be the guy with the ball in his hand, the guy that gets the chance to win the last game. I was ready for the moment.”
Winona State was lucky enough to get one big hit off of Vargas-Vila as Cody Strang came through with a triple to center in the eighth inning. The ball bounced off the wall and two runners came home to score as the Warriors ended West Florida’s hopes of a shutout. Winona State trailed the fourth-ranked Argonauts (52-9) 11-2 at that point.
“He wasn’t overpowering, but he did a good job of locating and kept us off balance,” Winona State head coach Kyle Poock said. “He didn’t give us a chance to get into the game.”
Vargas-Vila admitted he was a little worn down at that point, the hot North Carolina sun obviously sapping some of his energy, but with a nine-run lead, a couple of runs mattered little.
“I was getting tired, but we had such a good lead,” Vargas-Vila said. “I’ll take giving up a couple of runs.”
A year ago, Vargas-Vila wasn’t quite ready to handle a lengthy postseason run. Sure, he finished 8-3 with a 4.16 ERA and 64 strikeouts last season, but his body gave out down the stretch.
“Last season was a great learning experience,” Vargas-Vila said. “My arm gave out and I realized I had to put in a lot of work to get better as a pitcher. I am happy with the way things turned out.”
West Florida head coach Mike Jeffcoat was pleased with the effort Vargas-Vila gave on the mound and was even more impressed with his ability to be at his best for his senior season.
“Daniel took it to another level this year,” Jeffcoat said. “He got his body in better shape and built it up to endure the rigors of a long season. He was strong for us in the postseason from start to finish.”
Vargas-Vila ended up with two wins at the national tournament and gave up a total of two runs. He finished with 10 strikeouts and walked only two. He went eight innings in the tourney opener against Southern Connecticut as well, a 13-0 win for the Argonauts, and caps his two-year run at West Florida with 24 wins, four losses and memories that will last a lifetime.
“I’ll never forget this season,” Vargas-Vila said. “These are memories I will always have and I will keep in touch with the other guys on the team. We deserved this title. I couldn’t ask for a better way to go out.”
As for his future, well, there is a chance he will play at the next level. Only time will tell.
“I’d love to play professional baseball,” Vargas-Vila said. “I pray on it and I hope things work out. But it’s something that is out of my control. We’ll see what happens.”
No matter what happens, Vargas-Vila will be the pitcher who led the Argonauts to their first national championship in program history.