SIGNAL PEAK — Fortunately for the Central Arizona College baseball team, being swept in the Region 1 championship series did not bring a stellar season to a shocking conclusion.
The third-ranked Vaqueros will play in next week’s Western District tournament despite Friday’s 10-6 home loss to Yavapai. Because two teams from Region 1 qualify for the district tourney this season, CAC is in the field along with Yavapai — which will host — and the winners of the Region 9 and Region 18 tourneys.
“We’re still alive,” CAC coach Anthony Gilich said. “I expect our guys to bounce back and go up there (to Prescott) and win the tournament.”
Coming off Thursday’s 5-4 loss in 11 innings to the Roughriders, the Vaqueros (45-7) battled back from deficits of 1-0, 3-1 and 4-3 on Friday to take a 6-4 lead with a three-run seventh inning. Yavapai (32-19) responded by scoring six runs while batting around in the top of the eighth.
“That killed us,” Gilich said. “We have to lock down a zero there. It was hard for us to score all day, but we fought back to get the three-spot. To give up six broke our backs.”
The Roughriders wreaked havoc against three CAC relievers in the eighth, scoring three runs off Drew Sommers, two off Leo Palacios and one off Liam Evans. They collected five hits in the inning, including four straight during one stretch.
The carnage began with an RBI double by CJ Valdez. Travis Warinner, Daniel Martin and Alton Gyselman contributed run-scoring singles. Another run scored on a passed ball. A wild pickoff throw went for a three-base error that brought in the final run.
Yavapai took a 1-0 lead on the game’s second pitch when Damone Hale homered off Hunter Omlid. Central tied it on an RBI double by Jake Jarvis in the second.
Valdez, who went 3 for 5, homered leading off the Yavapai fourth, and the Roughriders went up 3-1 later in the inning on an RBI triple by Amari Bartee.
Dayton Dooney’s two-run homer in the CAC sixth made it 3-3.
Hale singled in the seventh to drive in Daniel Martin, who led off the inning with a double.
The Vaqueros finally took the lead against reliever Ethan Bell in the bottom of the inning. Jarvis led off with a triple and scored on Devon Dixon’s two-out single. Following a walk to Preston Godfrey, JD McLaughlin tripled to drive in two runs.
Central scored three runs and had five hits off Yavapai starter Taisei Yahiro, who went six innings. Yahiro kept the Vaqueros off balance for the most part with a variety of changeups and breaking balls.
“We faced him once before and beat him, so it wasn’t like he was throwing anything we hadn’t seen before,” Gilich said. “He did a good job of locating.”
Omlid allowed three runs and five hits in 4 1/3 innings. DJ Carpenter kept Yavapai scoreless during a stint of 1 1/3 innings.
Yavapai finished with 13 hits, six of which went for extra bases. Four of Central’s eight hits went for extra bases.
Jarvis went 3 for 4 and Dixon had two hits for the Vaqueros. Bartee went 3 for 4, and the Roughriders got two hits apiece from Hale and Martin.
The winner of the May 20-22 Western District tournament advances to the 10-team NJCAA World Series. Central is the defending national champion (the event was not held in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic).
The Vaqueros are 2-4 against Yavapai this season, not that it matters to Gilich.
“These (last) two games didn’t scare me for next week. I expect us to win the tournament,” he said.
Expectations are the games in Prescott will be high-scoring affairs.
“It’s a small field,” Gilich said, and the teams will be using metal bats.
“The ball’s going to fly. If you can hold a team to single digits, you’re probably going to win,” he said.