SIGNAL PEAK — Having already clinched home-field advantage for the duration of the postseason until the NJCAA World Series, nothing was at stake for the Central Arizona College baseball team in Saturday’s doubleheader against Cochise.
The fifth-ranked Vaqueros were anything but complacent as they concluded the regular season with 10-1 and 8-7 victories over the visiting Apaches. Central scored two runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to overcome a 7-6 deficit in Game 2.
“All the games are important to us,” CAC coach Anthony Gilich said. “We didn’t want to take our foot off the gas. We have competitive guys and they’re going to try their best to win.”
The Vaqueros (43-5, 33-5 Arizona Community College Athletic Conference) had a pair of four-run innings and collected 10 hits in the opener. Pitchers Liam Evans and Cristian Sanchez held Cochise (25-21, 18-18 ACCAC) to four hits.
Leading the way on offense for CAC were Dayton Dooney (2 for 4 with four RBIs) and Tyler Griggs (2 for 3 with two RBIs). Devon Dixon also had two hits.
Evans (2-1) went five innings in his fourth start of the season. The left-hander allowed three hits, including a two-out homer by Eduarny Martinez in the fifth, while striking out three and walking none. Sanchez kept Cochise off the board in the sixth and seventh.
Central turned 6-4-3 double plays in the second and fourth innings following the Apaches’ first two hits. In the top of the sixth, Jimmy DeLeon was thrown out on an 8-6-4 relay attempting to stretch a single into a double.
The Vaqueros took a 1-0 lead in the second when Kiko Romero scored from second on Preston Godfrey’s sacrifice fly. They strung together four consecutive hits in the third, the last being a three-run double by Dooney. Dusty Garcia’s sacrifice fly made it 5-0.
Griggs put Central up 6-0 with a fourth-inning sacrifice fly.
The Vaqueros batted around in the sixth. Among their five hits in the inning were RBI singles by Ryan Grabosch, Griggs, Dooney and Romero.
Cochise held leads of 3-0 and 5-2 early in the second game. The Apaches scored two runs in the top of the ninth off Drew Sommers to go up 7-6.
The bottom of the ninth began with JD McLaughlin’s pinch single. Dooney followed with a single that sent McLaughlin to third. After a strikeout, Godfrey doubled to drive in the tying run. Jake Jarvis was intentionally walked to load the bases, and the game ended when pinch-runner Vinnie LaGatta came home on Seth Beckstead’s foul popout to the first baseman that went for a sacrifice fly.
“I was really happy our guys didn’t take these games for granted and just go through the motions,” Gilich said. “We try to treat every game like it’s Game 7.”
Godfrey went 4 for 4, and Dooney was 3 for 5 with an RBI double in the seventh that produced a 5-5 tie. Matt Aribal was 2 for 3 with an RBI single in the eighth that put the Vaqueros ahead for the first time at 6-5.
Jarvis had a run-scoring groundout in the second and Beckstead had a sacrifice fly in the sixth.
Central finished with 13 hits.
Cochise was limited to five hits by a contingent of five CAC pitchers. Sommers (2-1) notched the win.
The postseason begins Monday with a Region 1 tournament play-in game between Cochise and Eastern Arizona. The next phase of the tournament (Thursday, Friday and Saturday) is double elimination.
CAC will host the Cochise-Eastern winner and fourth-seeded South Mountain in one bracket. The Vaqueros, 24-2 at home this season, open postseason play on Friday with an 11 a.m. game.
Second-seeded Pima will host third-seeded Arizona Western and fifth-seeded Yavapai in the other bracket.