SIGNAL PEAK – In a baseball game that was dripping with drama, Vinnie LaGatta ended it with one mighty swing of his bat.
Pinch hitting as the leadoff batter in the bottom of the 15th inning, LaGatta walloped a 2-0 pitch over the right-field fence on Saturday at McSwain Field. The walk-off blast sent Central Arizona College to a 3-2 victory over Cochise in the decisive Game 3 of the Division I Region 1 championship series.
“It was a crazy game, and we got it done,” LaGatta said. “That’s my first walk-off home run, and there’s nothing like it. It beats all, for sure.”
Neither team even had a runner in scoring position in the extra frames until the Apaches put a runner at third with two outs in the top of the 15th. Damian Garcia drew a walk and advanced to third on Cameron Crotte’s single. But the threat was thwarted when Tyler Woessner (10-2) struck out Alan Ochoa.
Then up stepped LaGatta, who put a smashing end to a game that lasted 4 hours and 19 minutes.
“This was an unbelievable game, one I won’t forget for a long time,” CAC coach Anthony Gilich said. “I’m happy we came out on top.”
Facing Treyjen Meza, who started and went 7 1/3 innings as Cochise prevailed 3-1 in Thursday’s series opener, LaGatta took two curveballs.
“Then he threw me a fastball middle in and I just went with it,” LaGatta said. “It was my best swing, for sure, definitely one of a kind.”
Hitting a home run was not foremost on his mind.
“I was the first batter of the inning so I was trying to battle, get on base and find a way for our team to get the rally going,” LaGatta said.
LaGatta’s heroics would not have been possible without the relief pitching of Drew Sommers. The left-hander went 7 1/3 innings, facing 25 batters. He struck out 12 and retired 12 straight before departing with two outs in the 15th after issuing his lone walk.
“Sure, I was getting tired out there. My mouth was dry and everything,” Sommers said. “But you have to push through it. I was calm and relaxed. You turn off the brain and do what you do best – throw strikes.”
Sommers said he relied on four-seam and two-seam fastballs to pile up the outs “and my curveball was very good. I usually don’t throw it that often but it worked very well today.”
He said when he took the mound for his fifth inning of work “I just started smiling. It was fun.”
Sommers was named Most Valuable Player of the Region 1 playoffs. In a first-round victory over Yavapai in Game 2, he finished off the sweep by striking out 11 of the 14 batters he faced during a four-inning relief stint.
Trailing 1-0 on Saturday, the sixth-ranked Vaqueros (50-11) tallied two runs in the sixth inning off Cochise starter Jose Velazquez. Jaylin Rae doubled with one out and came home on Kiko Romero’s single. Romero then displayed some savvy baserunning by scoring from first on Blake Avila’s groundout to third.
Romero continued to third on the groundout because nobody was covering the bag. And when the catcher left his post to belatedly cover third, Romero raced home across an uncovered plate.
CAC collected only two more hits after that prior to LaGatta’s homer – Dusty Garcia’s two-out single in the fifth and Chase Valentine’s two-out triple in the ninth.
Former Vista Grande High School standout Marco Ozuna pitched six innings for the Apaches (44-18) after replacing Velasquez with one out in the sixth. Ozuna, the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference pitcher of the year, faced 21 batters. He allowed two hits, struck out six and walked none.
A towering home run down the left-field line by Eduarny Martinez with two outs in the fourth inning gave Cochise a 1-0 lead. It came off CAC starter Shane Spencer, who allowed five hits, struck out six and walked none in 7 1/3 innings.
The Apaches tied it 2-2 with an unearned run in the top of the ninth. Facing Sommers, Connor Caskenette led off with a single. Martinez reached on Central’s lone error of the game and the runners moved up on a sacrifice bunt by Makai DeSoto. Sommers struck out Gerardo Hernandez for the second out. But with a 3-2 count on Garcia, courtesy runner Leobardo Melendez stole home.
Caskenette had three of Cochise’s eight hits. The Vaqueros were limited to six hits.
CAC moves on to next week’s double-elimination West District tournament which will consist of four teams – Central, two from Region 18 and the Region 9 champ. The Region 18 champion will host.
The winner of the district tourney advances to the NJCAA World Series.