Friday, Feb. 19, 2010 | 2:10 a.m.
Beyond the Sun
They stood in the dugout, shoulder-to-shoulder, two sophomore, right-handed, College of Southern Nevada starting pitchers with one thing on their mind — winning — and one goal in common — winning it all.
"How close to that point are you?" they were asked as coach Tim Chambers walked past.
"A long way," Chambers playfully interjected.
And that's where the similarities ended.
Donn Roach, true to form, laughed. Joe Robinson, also true to form, didn't.
Together, the two form the front-end of the Coyotes' pitching rotation and sit atop a staff that has plenty of experience, depth and a misfit amongst them.
"We have quite the mix," Chambers said. "Old guys and young guys, funny guys and serious guys, short guys, tall guys, we have everything."
Roach and Robinson are two crucial parts of that mix.
Roach pitched for three state championship teams at Bishop Gorman High, while Robinson didn't pitch until his senior year at Green Valley High.
Roach plays loose, cracks jokes and hollers at teammates from the mound and the bench. Robinson is tight-lipped, straightforward and hollers at his teammates through his work ethic and steely resolve.
But both are leaders on a team whose sights are set squarely on Grand Junction, Colo., home of the National Junior College Athletic Association World Series.
"We've pitched pretty good so far," Robinson said. "Everybody's stepping up trying to do their job, making sure we get wins."
The Coyotes are 10-2 this season, with the pitching staff allowing opponents just more three runs per game.
"Pitching wins games," Roach said, "No matter who you are or what teams you're playing, if you don't have pitchers, you're not going to win."
Which could, in part, explain why the Coyotes split four games in last weekend's Coyote Classic, with all four starters exiting thanks to season-worst performances. CSN allowed its three highest run totals of the season.
"We expect a lot from the staff for sure," Chambers said. "Last weekend, we weren't really good. We left a lot of pitches up and walked way too many guys but we know that will happen on occasion."
As will injuries, which is why the head coach tabs the health of his pitchers as the biggest priority in getting the team back to the World Series. CSN won the national title in 2003, its only appearance in Grand Junction.
"Our most important goal is to keep our pitchers healthy," he said. "If it costs us some ball games to keep their pitch count down, then that's what we have to do so they're fresh at the end."
Already the Coyotes are missing starting pitcher Chasen Shreve and utility arm Gentry Croft because of injuries, which puts more pressure on the top of the rotation as Scenic West Athletic Conference play nears.
"A lot of the guys getting the brunt of innings are sophomores," Chambers said. "And you expect more from guys with that kind of experience."
And the guys with that kind of experience expect one thing: winning.
When Roach laughs, it's because he's winning. When Robinson doesn't laugh, it's because he wants to win.
"He's a competitor and a leader," Robinson said of Roach. "He'll get on guys and let them know what they're doing wrong; at the same time, he knows what he needs to fix and get better at."
Roach, a first-year CSN player after transferring from Arizona, sees a different kind of leadership from his counterpart.
"His work ethic is the best on the team," Roach said. "He's a little more reserved but he gets at it every day and I respect that."
But the pitcher that Chambers said "could take up shop at a comedy store downtown," and the pitcher that he affectionately calls "Johnny Serious" might be more alike than meets the eye.
Alphabetically and numerically, the two are neighbors on the CSN roster. Roach gives an inch to Robinson, Robinson spots Roach 10 pounds and, occasionally, they answer each other's questions.
"Where do we want to be at the end of the season?" Robinson wonders aloud.
"Grand Junction," Roach responds, "is where I want to be."
And if the former keeps quiet and the latter keeps laughing, the Coyotes will like their chances.