GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. — What a start it was for the Central Arizona College baseball team in the NJCAA World Series.
The defending champion Vaqueros vanquished Cowley, Kansas, with ease in Sunday’s opening round, winning 12-4. The game ended after seven innings under the eight-run rule.
Among Central’s six extra-base hits were Kiko Romero’s grand slam and a two-run homer by Dusty Garcia. Florence High School graduate Mat Olsen struck out eight in six solid innings to raise his record to 12-0.
The sixth-seeded Vaqueros (49-7) overcame a 1-0 deficit with a five-run third inning. Romero’s slam in the top of the seventh ended the scoring. CAC also scored two in the fourth on Garcia’s home run and one in the fifth.
“The first three innings of the first (World Series) game is volatile for every team,” CAC coach Anthony Gilich said. “I thought we did a pretty good job of not getting caught up in the moment and calming the nerves.”
Central next plays on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. Arizona time against the winner of Monday’s game between third-seeded San Jacinto-North, Texas (49-13) and No. 9 Shelton State, Alabama (40-15).
Olsen surrendered a first-inning run to fifth-seeded Cowley (46-9), and the Tigers trailed 5-3 after putting up two in the third. But the right-hander allowed just three hits in his final three innings. Olsen threw 124 pitches, 81 for strikes. He retired the side in order in the sixth, striking out the last two batters he faced.
“I struggled to land the breaking ball early,” Olsen said in a postgame radio interview, “and that’s why I got into some trouble. Once I was able to find the slider in the zone, I was able to get some swings and misses.”
Leo Palacios came on to record the final three outs, striking out the side in the bottom of the seventh.
“In a tournament setting, managing the bullpen is a real key,” Gilich said. “Palacios did a great job. To have to use a reliever for only one inning is going to help us moving forward.”
Bryce Madron led off the game with a single and eventually scored on a fielder’s choice grounder by Gus Freeman.
The Vaqueros batted around in the third. The rally began with one out when Dayton Dooney singled to center off Cowley starter J’Briell Easley, who brought a 9-1 record into the World Series. After Romero and Garcia were hit by pitches to load the bases, Dooney came home on an error. Tyler Griggs followed with an RBI single to right and Garcia scored on a wild pitch before Seth Beckstead drilled a two-run triple to left.
Garcia’s 10th homer of the season, a shot over the left-field wall, came with two outs in the fourth on an 0-1 pitch. Scoring ahead of him was Dooney, who doubled to right-center with one out. Dooney went 3 for 4 with two doubles.
CAC extended its lead to 8-3 on Preston Godfrey’s RBI double to center with one out in the fifth. Scoring was Beckstead, who was hit by a pitch and took second on Devon Dixon’s sacrifice.
Romero cleared the left-field wall with two outs in the seventh on a 2-0 pitch after Cowley reliever Miguel Fulgencio gave up a single to Godfrey in between walks to Dixon and Dooney. The home run was his ninth.
“We had two big innings and they were the difference in the game,” Gilich said. “We just have to limit our strikeouts (the Vaqueros had 10).
Godfrey and Griggs both had two of CAC’s 10 hits.
David Herring drove in two runs for Cowley with a third-inning single. Felix Chenier-Rondea delivered an RBI triple in the fifth.
The Tigers finished with seven hits, getting two from Madron.
Cowley came in with a six-game winning streak and a collective team batting average of .365.
“They’re probably the best two-strike hitting team we’ve faced all year,” Gilich said. “I just hope we don’t have to face them again.”