GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. — Capturing a second straight national championship is going to be a mighty challenge for the Central Arizona College baseball team.
The Vaqueros fell 7-4 to San Jacinto-North (Texas) on Tuesday night in the NJCAA World Series. They play an elimination game Wednesday at Sam Suplizio Field, taking on Cowley (Kansas) at 2 p.m. Arizona time.
“It doesn’t really change anything,” CAC coach Anthony Gilich said. “We’ve still got to win four more games, and I think we can do that.”
Central charged through the loser’s bracket to win the 2019 title (the 2020 World Series was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic), so it won’t be unfamiliar territory for Gilich and a few of his players who were members of that team. The Vaqueros notched three straight victories in 2019 via the backdoor route.
Third-seeded San Jacinto (51-13) mustered only five hits against sixth-seeded Central (49-8), but three of those were home runs off starter Hunter Omlid (13-1). Mason Auer’s two-run shot in the bottom of the fifth inning put the Gators ahead to stay at 5-4.
Gilich downplayed the homers, saying “the difference was we weren’t able to cash in when we had runners on.”
The Vaqueros had five doubles and a home run among their nine hits, and they drew four walks. But they grounded into three double plays and stranded three runners in scoring position.
“That really hurt us,” Gilich said. “And we gave up some preventable runs.”
The Gators scored their first run in the first inning on one of CAC’s three errors, and their last one in the seventh on a wild pitch by reliever Drew Sommers following his errant pickoff throw that allowed the baserunner to advance from first to third.
Harold Coll’s solo homer with one out in the San Jacinto second made it 3-3. Sabin Ceballos went deep leading off the sixth to put Central in a 6-4 hole. The other RBI for the Gators came on a first-inning sacrifice fly by Armani Sanchez that gave them a 2-1 lead.
Central went up 1-0 in the top of the first on Dayton Dooney’s RBI groundout. Scoring was JD McLaughlin, who doubled with one out and continued to third on an error by the center fielder.
The Vaqueros took a 3-2 lead with two runs in the second. Dusty Garcia led off with a single and continued to second on another error by the center fielder. Jake Jarvis followed with an RBI double, and he scored on Devon Dixon’s two-out single.
Preston Godfrey put Central ahead 4-3 with a leadoff home run (his seventh of the season) in the fifth off San Jacinto starter Matthew Tieding.
The Gators turned inning-ending double plays in the fifth, seventh and eighth.
Dooney went 3 for 4 with two doubles. Ryan Grabosch also had a two-base hit for the Vaqueros, who left runners at second base in the fourth, seventh and eighth innings.
Omlid went five-plus innings, allowing six runs (five earned) and four hits. He struck out seven, walked two and hit two. Sommers pitched two innings, and Cristian Sanchez struck out three straight in the eighth after giving up a leadoff single.
Tieding allowed four runs (three earned) and eight hits in 4 1/3 innings. Evan Hiatt (1 2/3 innings) and Cole McMillan (three innings) kept CAC scoreless the rest of the way. The lone hit off San Jacinto’s two relievers was Dooney’s leadoff double in the eighth.
The Vaqueros defeated fifth-seeded Cowley 12-4 in Sunday’s opening round. The Tigers (47-9) stayed alive with Tuesday’s 24-14 win over No. 9 Shelton State (Alabama).
“We’ll have our hands full,” Gilich said.
San Jacinto and fourth-seeded McLennan (Texas) are the two undefeated teams remaining in the 10-team tournament. The CAC-Cowley winner plays the San Jacinto-McLennan loser Thursday at 2 p.m. Arizona time. Top-seeded Crowder (Missouri) faces the San Jacinto-McLennan winner in Thursday’s second game.