SIGNAL PEAK — After going 10-0 in nonconference play to begin the season, the next phase figures to be a bit more challenging for the Central Arizona College baseball team.
Starting Saturday against Paradise Valley, the Vaqueros are scheduled to play 19 doubleheaders against Arizona Community College Athletic Conference opponents. Only three of the first 12 will be on their home field, where Central went 4-0 against Colorado Northwestern and 2-0 against Salt Lake, Utah, prior to last week’s 8-4 and 17-2 wins over GateWay. Two of the games against Salt Lake were held at Temple Diablo Stadium due to a sprinkler malfunction at CAC Field.
“We’re going to be facing good competition and the games are going to be tighter,” CAC coach Anthony Gilich said.
Especially the seven-inning first games.
“They’re usually low scoring because both teams usually throw their best arms, which shortens the game,” he said.
So far, Gilich likes what he’s seen from his team in virtually every aspect.
“We have the ability to put up runs in bunches” and “we have a deep pitching staff,” he said. “I feel confident with anyone who’s on the mound.”
The Vaqueros also are 26 for 28 on steal attempts, Gilich noted, and have committed just nine errors.
Central averages 9.8 runs per game and has scored 11 or more four times. The pitchers have limited opponents to two or fewer runs seven times, and the team ERA is 1.56.
The 10th-ranked Vaqueros didn’t have to do a whole lot of hitting in their latest sweep. That was especially true in Saturday’s blowout as GateWay’s plethora of pitchers combined for 16 walks in eight innings (along with two hit batters and five wild pitches through six innings).
Central had nine hits on Saturday after getting six in Friday’s victory.
The outcome of Saturday’s game became academic when the Vaqueros struck for nine runs in the first inning. The key blow was an inside-the-park grand slam by Zack Stewart, who zipped around the bases after driving the ball to left-center.
They accumulated five hits, five walks and a hit batsman while sending 13 to the plate.
Other noteworthy hits in the game were Vinnie LaGatta’s two-run triple in CAC’s four-run eighth inning, run-scoring singles by Tyler Griggs in the first and sixth, an RBI double by JD McLaughlin in the first and Matt Aribal’s run-scoring single in the eighth.
GateWay pitchers issued three bases-loaded walks in the first six innings, including two in the first.
The Geckos (0-2) are one of the ACCAC’s seven Division II teams. There also are seven in D-I, including defending NJCAA champion CAC. GateWay was much more competitive in Friday’s game, taking leads of 3-0 in the second inning and 4-3 in the fifth. Central scored two in the bottom of the fifth to go ahead for the first time and tacked on three in the seventh.
Griggs hit a three-run homer to tie it in the second. Aribal drove in two runs and had two hits.
Nine pitchers appeared for Central in the two-game series, and Gilich said that was by design.
The starting four-man rotation (Mat Olsen, Tyler Woessner, Daniel Davila and Hunter Omlid) worked the first game. They combined for 17 strikeouts and limited the Geckos to three hits.
Olsen, a Florence High School product, allowed his first hit of the year after coming in with 10 hitless innings. He gave up three runs (two earned) in two innings while striking out six and walking one.
Gilich went with Leo Palacios as the starter in Game 2, and the 6-foot-4, 215-pound left-hander held the Geckos scoreless and hitless through three innings. Palacios has 18 strikeouts in 8 1/3 innings and has yet to allow a run or a hit.
Shane Spencer, Liam Evans, Cristian Sanchez and Drew Sommers followed to complete the three-hitter. The quintet combined for 14 strikeouts, getting five from both Palacios and Spencer.
The Vaqueros broke into the win column with Saturday’s 75-71 victory over Eastern Arizona at the George Young Activity Center.
Shakeil Bertrand had 19 points and 10 rebounds for Central (1-4 overall, 1-3 Arizona Community College Athletic Conference). He went 9 for 14 from the field. Brenton Woods shot 6 for 10 and finished with 17 points and eight assists.
Jalen Menzies scored 15 points coming off the bench and Ryan Pate had 10.
CAC, which went 10 for 30 on 3-pointers, outscored the Gila Monsters 35-31 in the second half. The halftime score was 40-40.
“It’s definitely a boost for our morale and our confidence,” CAC coach Tramaine Aaron said. “It was a collective total team effort, which is something we’ve hadn’t had at times.”
Menzies had 21 points to lead Central in Tuesday’s 75-63 loss at Arizona Western. Bertrand scored 15 for the Vaqueros, who trailed 39-26 at halftime.
Central is scheduled to host Cochise on Tuesday and play at Eastern Arizona on Saturday.
“We just have to concentrate on improving every day in practice,” Aaron said. “Our preparation has to be consistent.”
The Vaqueras outscored host Arizona Western 24-12 in the fourth quarter to overcome a 38-36 deficit and register a 60-50 victory on Tuesday.
No. 11 Central (1-1 overall, 1-1 Arizona Community College Athletic Conference) also had a big second quarter, outscoring the Matadors 14-5 to take a 25-21 halftime lead.
Denali Hughes scored 19 points and Shalyse Smith had 16 to lead the Vaqueras. Seairra Hughes came off the bench to provide 10 points.
Central is scheduled to host Cochise (Tuesday) and Western (Thursday) before playing at Eastern Arizona on Saturday.
Fans are not allowed to attend any CAC sporting events at this time due to coronavirus restrictions.