Romero twirls a gem in final start before Draft

Romero twirls a gem in final start before Draft

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. -- JoJo Romero in all likelihood pitched his final game at the amateur level, and it was a gem.

Romero, ranked No. 124 on MLB Pipeline's Top 200 Draft Prospects, tossed a complete game to lead Yavapai College (Ariz.) to a 5-2 win over juggernaut San Jacinto (Texas) in the JUCO World Series title game on Saturday.

Romero was already projected to go in the first 10 rounds of next week's first-year player Draft, but he might've increased his stock with a masterful championship game performance that will be fresh on scouts' minds.

"I'm guessing it could be good because I had a really good outing," a grinning Romero said. "We'll just have to see."

A night after San Jacinto ace, and touted Draft prospect, Devin Smeltzer struck out 20 and reached 140 pitches, Romero fanned 15, needing 132 pitches to go wire-to-wire.

Romero took a tad longer to settle in a groove and get a grip on his changeup, his go-to pitch that has been described as "pro-ready" by head coach Ryan Cougill.

"[San Jacinto] is probably the most talented team in the country, you give them a lot of credit, which makes what JoJo did even more special," said Cougill, who didn't have anyone warming in the bullpen until the ninth inning.

"I think you can extend him a little bit on the adrenaline," Cougill said, noting he was just a few batters from pulling him. "You can extend him a little bit because he's so mature about his habits and how he takes care of himself. But there's certainly a line you can't cross and I think he was approaching it for sure."

Yavapai lost its second game of the tournament to Cisco (Texas), but rebounded to win four straight to win the title. When they entered Saturday's game, even with San Jacinto on the heels of a remarkable performance from Smeltzer, Yavapai was arguably the hotter team.

Yavapai needed a 15-14, four-hour marathon win over Cisco in a rematch Wednesday, and just a day later, it won 7-3 over 2014 champion, and heavy favorite, Iowa Western. They got help from a San Jacinto loss in the double-elimination tournament later that night that forced an extra game on Friday, which was initially scheduled to be the championship game.

The pushback allowed Romero, who had pitched on Wednesday, the chance to start instead of coming out of the bullpen.

"We're working hard every night -- spray charts, scouting reports, everything," catcher Gavin Johns said. "Staying up late until 2 a.m. doing what we have to do to get done, then we bring it to the game. We have a trust in each other that we've built over the season and JoJo has been stellar."

All five of Yavapai's runs went unanswered after falling in a 2-0 deficit. The game was tied, 2-2, heading into the eighth when Johns smashed a go-ahead, two-run homer over the right field wall with the thin-altitude air carrying it nearly to the parking lot. Yavapai scored again in the ninth on a sacrifice fly in foul territory with the bases loaded.

Romero then put on the finishing touches, retiring the side with a pair of strikeouts and a championship-clinching flyout to right field, and the celebration began on the mound.

Now comes the wait. If he's not selected next week, Romero is headed to Arizona. But the hard-hurling lefty gave general managers a pro-caliber performance that he hopes was enough to warrant a pick.

Daniel Kramer is a reporter for MLB.com based in Denver. Follow him on Twitter at @DKramer_. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.