GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. — Simply put, there is no quit in the Central Arizona College baseball team.
In one of the most enthralling games in program history, the Vaqueros staved off elimination from the NJCAA World Series with a come-from-behind 11-10 victory over San Jacinto-North (Texas) on Thursday at Sam Suplizio Field. Trailing 10-9 entering the bottom of the ninth inning, Central prevailed when Jake Jarvis hit a chopper up the middle to drive in the tying and winning runs. The single came on a 1-1 pitch following doubles by Dayton Dooney and Kiko Romero.
“I knew I was going to get a good pitch to hit,” Jarvis said in a postgame radio interview. “I was just trying to slap it in play. The mindset in the dugout (heading into the bottom of the ninth) was ‘we’re going to do something special.'"
The defending national champion Vaqueros (51-8) advanced to the World Series title round. They will face McLennan (Texas) at 6 p.m. Arizona time on Friday.
Fourth-seeded McLennan (46-16) is 4-0 in the 10-team tournament. Sixth-seeded Central has one loss, which means the Vaqueros will have to defeat the Highlanders twice to win the title for a fourth time. A second game against McLennan, if necessary, is Saturday at 6 p.m.
Central has played against just two teams in the tournament thus far, defeating Cowley (Kansas) twice and splitting a pair with third-seeded San Jacinto (51-15).
Five-time national champion San Jacinto recovered from an early 5-0 deficit to pull within 6-5, scoring four unearned runs in the sixth. The Vaqueros took a 9-6 lead into the ninth, only to surrender four more runs to the Gators — one of which was unearned.
Then it was CAC’s time to shine.
Dooney doubled down the right-field line to begin the bottom of the ninth, barely beating the throw to second. Romero hit a shallow fly to center that tipped off the shortstop’s glove. Thinking that the ball might be caught, Dooney had to wait until it fell and could only advance to third.
San Jacinto reliever Cole McMillan got a strikeout, bringing Jarvis to the plate. He was hitless in his previous three at-bats after belting an opposite-field, two-run homer to left to give the Vaqueros a 2-0 lead in the second inning.
“It’s all hands on deck in an elimination game,” CAC coach Anthony Gilich said. “Guys have to step up and perform, and they came through. It was a big moment, and it was fun to share the accomplishment and excitement with them.”
Seth Beckstead smacked a solo home run in the second to make it 3-0. JD McLaughlin delivered a three-run bomb in the sixth to extend CAC’s lead to 9-5. McLaughlin, who came into the World Series with a .354 average and a team-leading 12 homers, was 2 for 16 in the tournament prior to clearing the left-field wall.
“We needed that, and he needed that,” Gilich said.
Dusty Garcia had an RBI single in Central’s two-run third inning.
The Gators took advantage of three walks and a hit batter in the fourth to score their first run against CAC starter Liam Evans. They capitalized on an error to prolong the sixth, getting an RBI single from Sabin Ceballos, Austin Roccaforte’s run-scoring groundout and a two-run homer by Jordan Williams.
Evans was removed after giving up the home run on his 113th pitch.
“I left him in there a little too long,” Gilich said. “That’s on me.”
San Jacinto reduced the deficit to 9-6 when Mason Auer scored from second base on a wild pitch in the eighth.
The Gators opened the ninth with two singles and a walk to load the bases. Williams then singled to drive in two runs.
Gilich summoned ace starter Mat Olsen from the bullpen, CAC’s fifth pitcher of the game. A potential game-ending double play grounder resulted in a forceout and an error that brought in the tying and go-ahead runs for San Jacinto.
The inning ended with a strikeout by Olsen (13-0), who threw 124 pitches in Sunday’s World Series win over Cowley.
CAC finished with 14 hits off five San Jacinto pitchers, getting three from Romero and two apiece from McLaughlin, Dooney, Jarvis and Beckstead. The hit total included three homers and four doubles.
The Gators had 11 hits, with Ceballos going 3 for 3. San Jacinto stranded 11 on the basepaths, including seven in scoring position.