Anthony Gilich has experienced highs before in baseball. As a junior shortstop for Pete Jansen’s 1997 Gig Harbor High School baseball team — yes, Jansen is still around coaching the Tides — Gilich won a state title with Gig Harbor.
Now he’s won another title as the head coach of Central Arizona College. The Vaqueros won the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) national championship against Iowa Western in Grand Junction, Colorado, on June 1.
“We were really talented this year,” Gilich said. “It took a while for us to kind of catch our stride. We started out fairly hot but in the middle of the season, we couldn’t find a rhythm. We were banged up a bit and had a tough time winning games. We ended up getting hot at the right time. Everyone kind of settled into their role.”
The Vaqueros didn’t take the easy route in the championship game. Iowa Western scored seven runs in the top of the first inning, giving Central Arizona a mountain to climb.
“It’s definitely not how we drew it up,” Gilich said with a laugh. “I don’t think in any of my time coaching, we’ve ever given up seven in the first inning, let alone in the national championship game. But it was early in the game so we had plenty of time to answer back.”
And Central Arizona did, scoring four runs in the bottom of the first, another run in the second, five runs in the third and two in the sixth — 12 unanswered runs, eventually hanging on for a wild 13-8 win.
“Getting four in the bottom of the first, that let us settle in again,” Gilich said. “We felt OK about it. We just wanted to get at least one in the first to get a piece of the momentum back.”
Gilich, 39, is in his fifth year as the program’s head coach; this is his first national title. He came to the school in 2008 as an assistant coach after spending two seasons at the University of Puget Sound as an assistant.
“It’s been unbelievable here,” Gilich said. “I know how lucky I am to be the head coach here. It’s a coveted spot. It’s a great place to work with a lot of support. The program was really good well before I ever got here.”
Gilich, along with junior college coaches across the country, has a unique job. The goal is to move players on to Division I programs and the Major League Baseball draft, which means Gilich doesn’t retain most of his players longer than a year or two. That constant turnover is a challenge that Gilich embraces.
“It’s part of my job,” Gilich said. “We never want anyone to end their career at Central Arizona. We want to get guys drafted or move them on to a Division I school. We had 18 guys commit to Division I schools this year.”
One of those players this year was Gig Harbor High School grad Avery Jones, who emerged as one of the team’s starting pitchers and recently committed to San Diego State University. Jones was the first Gig Harbor High School player Gilich has managed to get on his roster at Central Arizona.
“I always ask Pete Jansen what it’s going to take to get a Gig Harbor guy,” Gilich joked. “(Jones) did a good job this year. He snuck into a starting role, which I didn’t think would be the case for him. He just threw well, nothing overwhelming, but he throws a ton of strikes, is competitive and keeps you in every game. I can certainly live with that. He had very few walks in a lot of innings. … He earned that role.”
Gilich still remembers his high school days fondly.
“(Jansen) was a really fun coach to play for,” he said. “He kept everything fun, kept it light. We worked hard. He was just a fun coach to play and easy to get behind.”
Gilich still keeps tabs on the Gig Harbor baseball program, knowing the Tides have had some good teams over the years since he left area. So when Gig Harbor won the title in 2017, he was happy for his old coach.
“I knew they had come close a lot since then, so I was happy they won it,” Gilich said. “Jansen is a good coach.”
Gilich still has some family in Gig Harbor and makes it back home a couple times a year.
“Gig Harbor has always been a special place for me,” Gilich said. “I appreciate Jansen and all the things I learned from him.”