CAC baseball

The Central Arizona College Vaqueros pose with the NJCAA World Series trophy after defeating Kansas Cowley in the title game on Saturday in Grand Junction, Colo.

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. — What a remarkable postseason run it was for the Central Arizona College baseball team.

Aided by two unearned runs, the Vaqueros defeated Cowley, Kansas, 4-2 on Saturday night at Sam Suplizio Field in the NJCAA World Series title game to secure the program’s fourth national championship. Central went 13-3 in the playoffs, including 10-0 in elimination games.

“I’m just so happy for the school, the players, the assistant coaches, the trainers … everybody put in so much work to make this happen,” CAC coach Anthony Gilich said. “I’m just proud as hell of these guys. It was an unbelievable ride. It was our tenth elimination game, so it almost felt normal to have our life on the line.”

After losing their World Series opener, the Vaqueros (59-13) reeled off five consecutive victories, one of which was a 5-4 walk-off win over second-seeded Wabash Valley, Illinois, on Dusty Garcia’s ninth-inning home run.

Garcia also homered on Saturday, going deep for the ninth time this season with one out in the bottom of the third inning to give CAC a 4-2 lead. Vinnie LaGatta had the sixth and final hit for the sixth-seeded Vaqueros, a two-out single in the third.

“It certainly wasn’t easy,” Gilich said. “I know our offense gets a lot of attention, but pitching and defense is kind of what we’ve hung our hat on all year.”

The Vaqueros, relying on just five pitchers through the course of the World Series, didn’t allow more than five runs in any game. They registered two double plays on Saturday and five for the tournament, and committed only four errors in their six games.

“Our pitching staff was the real MVP of this tournament,” Gilich said. “We got a good start out of every starter, and that allowed us to not have to go too deep into the bullpen.”

Seventh-seeded Cowley, which also advanced to the championship game after falling in the first round, took a 1-0 lead in the first inning when Trey DeGarmo doubled with one out and scored on Conner Gore’s two-out single.

Central went ahead 2-1 in the bottom of the first. The Vaqueros loaded the bases with one out on consecutive singles by Jaylin Rae, tournament MVP Kiko Romero and Logan Valencia. Garcia then hit a potential double-play grounder that was misplayed by the second baseman. Garcia was credited with an RBI and the second run scored on the error.

The Tigers (54-11) tied it 2-2 in the second on Bryce Madron’s two-out home run off CAC starter Shane Spencer.

CAC went ahead to stay in the bottom of the frame when Trey Newman scored on a two-out error by the center fielder after getting aboard on a one-out single.

Spencer (14-1) threw 93 pitches before being lifted after 6 1/3 innings. The right-hander allowed nine hits, struck out five and walked two. Spencer worked the final two innings in Friday night’s 7-4 victory over top-seeded Walters State, Tennessee, throwing 36 pitches.

“He’s our most resilient arm, and there really was no concern bringing him back,” Gilich said. “I was hoping for five innings and he gave us that plus an extra four outs. Just a gutty performance.”

Spencer won both of his starts in the World Series. The right-hander pitched 13 1/3 innings, striking out 12 and walking four.

“I think we play better under pressure,” Spencer told KTTM radio. “With our backs to the wall, we know how to punch back.”

Spencer said the Tigers weren’t biting on his off-speed pitches, so he stuck mainly to inside fastballs.

“That’s how I was getting my outs,” he said.

Drew Sommers recorded his fifth save of the season, giving up one hit and one walk while striking out five in 2 2/3 scoreless innings. The left-hander made four appearances in the World Series, allowing just two runs in nine innings with 18 strikeouts and three walks.

Cowley left 10 runners on base, seven in scoring position. The Tigers stranded runners at second and third in the first and seventh innings, a runner at third base in the sixth and a runner at second in the fifth and the ninth.

Madron, DeGarmo, Jason Reeder and David Herring each had two of Cowley’s 10 hits.

The CAC-Cowley matchup marked the first time in the history of the World Series, which began in 1958, that two teams which had lost their opening-round games played for the championship.

Romero, who tied a World Series record with six home runs in the tournament, also was named the outstanding offensive player of the tourney and to the all-tournament team along with teammates Newman, Garcia, Sommers and pitcher Tyler Woessner.

“It’s been crazy,” Romero told NJCAA TV. “There was confidence in the dugout, out on the mound and at the plate.”

Romero batted .407 in the World Series with 11 RBIs. Garcia batted .435 with four homers and 10 RBIs. Woessner went 1-0 in two starts, striking out 15 in 12 1/3 innings. Newman caught every inning in the tournament and threw out four of six on attempted steals. His leadoff home run in the eighth inning of Thursday’s win over Wabash Valley gave the Vaqueros a temporary 4-3 lead.

Gilich led the Vaqueros to the 2019 national championship and a runner-up finish last season. There was no World Series in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Central’s other national titles came in 1976 and 2002.

The Vaqueros went 4-1 in the Region 1 playoffs, sweeping Yavapai and defeating Cochise 3-2 in the decisive third game of the title round on LaGatta’s walk-off home run in the 15th. Central went 4-1 in the West District tournament, advancing to the World Series with three straight wins.

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