GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. — Staying alive in the NJCAA World Series took a relentless effort by the Central Arizona College baseball team.
The defending national champion Vaqueros outlasted Cowley (Kansas) 12-8 in Wednesday’s elimination-bracket marathon (3 hours, 57 minutes) at Sam Suplizio Field, racking up 17 hits while scoring in each of their last six at-bats. After going ahead 8-2 and 10-4, Central saw its lead shrink to 10-8 before Seth Beckstead came through with a two-out, two-run single in the top of the ninth inning to end the scoring.
“Beckstead came up with a huge hit when they were putting the squeeze on us,” CAC coach Anthony Gilich said. “We were able to keep our foot on their throats and make it hard for them to catch up.”
The sixth-seeded Vaqueros (50-8) prevailed despite striking out 14 times and stranding 15 baserunners, including nine in scoring position. They left the bases loaded in the fifth and seventh innings.
Next up is Thursday’s 2 p.m. (Arizona time) elimination game against third-seeded San Jacinto-North (Texas) or No. 4 McLennan (Texas).
“We’re going to take the same approach as we have all year — that every game is Game 7,” Gilich said.
Central led 8-2 going into the bottom of the seventh and went up 10-4 on Matt Aribal’s two-run homer in the eighth. But fifth-seeded Cowley (47-10) struck for four runs in the bottom of the eighth, stringing together five consecutive two-out hits with the last three being doubles.
Cristian Sanchez came on to squelch the uprising with a strikeout. The right-hander then struck out the side in the bottom of the ninth. Sanchez earned his first save of the season by retiring four of the five batters he faced.
“He stepped up big-time,” Gilich said. “We really needed that to right the ship.”
CAC used five pitchers who combined to allow 12 hits and seven walks. Cowley’s eight pitchers issued seven walks and hit three batters.
The Vaqueros did not break into the scoring column until the fourth inning, when they went ahead 2-1 on Beckstead’s RBI single and Preston Godfrey’s sacrifice fly. They tacked on three runs in the fifth, two in the sixth, one in the seventh, two in the eighth and two in the ninth.
Cowley scored on an error in the fourth to make it 2-2 and put up two runs in the seventh.
Central batted around in the fifth, taking the lead for good at 5-2. Dayton Dooney led off with a double and Kiko Romero followed with an RBI double. Romero came home on an error, and the third run scored on a bases loaded walk to Aribal.
Dusty Garcia and Devon Dixon provided RBI singles in the sixth — Garcia’s hit drove in Romero, who tripled with one out — and Romero drew a bases-loaded walk in the seventh.
Romero, Garcia, Dixon and Beckstead each had three hits for the Vaqueros, who also got two apiece from Dooney and Aribal.
Aribal was filling in at third base for Tyler Griggs, the team’s leading hitter. Griggs is day-to-day after being hit on the hand while fouling off a pitch in Tuesday’s game against San Jacinto.
“I couldn’t be happier for Matt,” Gilich said.
The Tigers scored four runs in four innings off CAC starter Tyler Woessner. Leo Palacios (2-0) gave up two runs in 2 1/3 innings, DJ Carpenter allowed three runs in 1 1/3 innings and Daniel Davila gave up one run.
Cowley’s Blake Robertson connected for RBI doubles in the third and eighth innings. Bryce Madron’s seventh-inning single drove in two runs.
The Tigers’ eighth-inning rally included run-scoring doubles by Madron and Janson Reeder.
Cowley left the bases loaded in the seventh and wound up stranding nine baserunners, including five in scoring position. The seventh ended with a Carpenter strikeout.
Madron went 3 for 4. Reeder, Robertson and Felix Chenier-Rondea each had two hits for the Tigers.
The Vaqueros opened World Series play with a 12-4 victory over Cowley on Sunday, then lost 7-4 to San Jacinto on Tuesday.
There are four teams remaining in the 10-team tournament — CAC, San Jacinto (51-13), McLennan (44-16) and top-seeded Crowder (Missouri). Crowder (55-7), which has one loss, will face the San Jacinto-McLennan winner in Thursday’s late game.