SIGNAL PEAK – Having disposed of its opponent with a two-game sweep in the opening round of the postseason, it’s on to Phase 2 for the sixth-ranked Central Arizona College baseball team.
The Vaqueros (48-10) will host Cochise (43-16) in the Division I Region 1 championship series at McSwain Field, starting with Thursday’s 2 p.m. matchup. Friday’s Game 2 also begins at 2 p.m. and a third game, if necessary, is Saturday at noon.
Central, which finished first in the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference to earn the No. 1 seed, posted 17-3 and 6-2 wins over Yavapai in last week’s region semifinals. Second-seeded Cochise advanced by prevailing 8-3 over Arizona Western in Game 3. Each of the first two games in that series went 10 innings, with the Apaches taking the opener 11-8 on a walk-off grand slam and losing 5-4 in Game 2.
The Vaqueros went 2-2 against Cochise during the regular season. Central swept a home doubleheader on Feb. 15, winning 8-4 and 11-5. The Apaches notched 11-5 and 10-4 wins on April 12 in Douglas.
The Region 1 champ advances to the four-team, double-elimination West District tournament May 19-21. The host team is the Region 18 champion.
Getting past Cochise is “going to be tough,” CAC coach Anthony Giilich said. “We have our work cut out.”
Gilich said the teams have similar strengths, specifically pitching and defense.
“I would guess that runs are going to be at a premium,” he said. “It’s going to boil down to executing when the opportunity presents itself. If we get a chance to score, we need to do it.”
The Vaqueros led the ACCAC in team ERA and fielding percentage during the regular season. They enter the series with a 3.08 ERA and a .971 fielding percentage. Cochise has a team ERA of 3.77 and a .957 fielding percentage.
The Apaches have a .310 team batting average. They average 7.0 runs per game. Central is batting .298 as a team and averages 8.6 runs. The Vaqueros led the conference in drawing walks and come in averaging 5.6 per game.
Tyler Woessner likely will be CAC’s starter in Game 1. He is 9-2 with a 2.95 ERA, 97 strikeouts and 23 walks in 73 1/3 innings. Shane Spencer (11-1 with a 3.88 ERA, 96 strikeouts and 16 walks in 67 1/3 innings), Tyson Heaton (7-2 with a 3.71 ERA, 82 strikeouts and 18 walks in 68 innings) and Patrick Steitz (8-3 with a 3.68 ERA, 50 strikeouts and 18 walks in 51 1/3 innings) are the other starters for the Vaqueros.
The team’s top relievers are Daniel Davila (1.19 ERA), Matt Wilkinson (1.38, two saves), Drew Sommers (1.60, four saves), Liam Evans (2.13), Jasiah George (2.21) and Sam Rochard (2.66, two saves).
Gilich used only four pitchers against Yavapai. Woessner went 6 1/3 innings and Davila got the final two outs in Game 1. Spencer went five innings and Sommers pitched four in Game 2, with Sommers striking out 11 of the 14 batters he faced.
First baseman Kiko Romero is batting .358 and leads the Vaqueros in RBIs (57) and home runs (13). Center fielder Jaylin Rae is batting .366 with 37 RBIs, designated hitter Dusty Garcia is batting .321 with 33 RBIs, right fielder Blake Avila is batting .313 with eight homers and 51 RBIs, second baseman Ryan Ball is batting .308 with 11 homers and 40 RBIs and shortstop Chase Valentine (.288) has 50 RBIs.
Treyjen Meza (13-2 with a 3.13 ERA, 122 strikeouts and 41 walks in 86 1/3 innings) is the top starter for Cochise.
Former Vista Grande High School standout Marco Ozuna was named the ACCAC pitcher of the year. He is 4-0 with 14 saves and a 2.13 ERA in 29 appearances (two starts). Ozuna has 90 strikeouts and 15 walks in 55 innings.
Cochise catcher Connor Caskenette joined Ozuna and Meza on the all-ACCAC first team. Caskanette, who hit the game-winning grand slam in the opener of last week’s series, is batting .364 with 57 RBIs.
Center fielder Eduarny Martinez (.331, 36 RBIs) was named to the all-conference second team. Second baseman Makai DeSoto leads the Apaches in home runs with 11.