NORTHEAST GLENDALE — At the onset of what could play out as a pivotal week for the Glendale Community College baseball team, the Vaqueros had the misfortune of running into Citrus starter Mikey Ramirez.
The sophomore left-hander out of West Covina High was on his game and then some, taking a perfect game into the sixth inning on his way to a four-hit shutout in the Owls' 3-0 victory over GCC on Tuesday afternoon at Stengel Field in a Western State Conference South Division tilt.
"That guy threw five pitches for strikes," said Vaqueros Coach Chris Cicuto, whose team was held without a baserunner until a two-out double in the sixth by Julian Jarrard. "He filled up the zone and got us off-balance. I thought he was really, really tough."
Ramirez struck out four on the day, walked none and got to a three-ball count just three times, as he got the Vaqueros to swing early in the count and relied on phenomenally steady defense behind him.
"It was dynamic," Citrus Coach Steve Gomez said of the performance of Ramirez (5-1). "It wasn't until the seventh that he had a three-ball count. That just shows you the kind of command he had."
The loss dropped first-place GCC to 14-6 overall and 5-2 in the South, with a half-game lead over Citrus (10-11, 5-3 in conference) and Bakersfield (14-6, 5-3) with the Vaqueros set to play a make-up game today against Mission before finishing the home-and-home against Citrus on Thursday and then capping the week Saturday at L.A. Valley. All three games are on the road.
Still, in the quest to repeat as conference champs, Cicuto's well-aware that one game isn't going to determine a season.
"I didn't think we were gonna go through conference with one loss," said Cicuto, whose team won the WSC South last year at 13-8. "It's a matter of how we bounce back. It could be a huge week for us."
GCC, which has lost two of its last three after a six-game winning streak, got a solid start from lefty David Lira (3-1), who battled control problems but settled down and used three terrific outfield plays to keep the game close. He pitched seven innings, allowing one unearned run and two hits, while walking six, striking out two and hitting a batter.
Citrus took a 1-0 lead with a two-out walk and a subsequent single that saw a throwing error allow the lead runner to score.
Lira ran into more trouble when he walked the leadoff batter in the second and another with one out after left fielder Chris Stroh showed off his range by tracking down a deep shot to left-center field. Stroh, a Crescenta Valley product, then came up clutch when he quickly fielded a sharp single, pulled off a seamless transition and threw a seed to home plate that had runner Ricky Mount out by three steps. Mount went through Vaqs catcher Anthony Esparza, however, and knocked the ball loose, only to still be called out on runner's interference as the home plate umpire ruled he did not attempt to slide. The call was to the vocal dismay of Gomez, who made a lengthy protest. Lira then hit the next batter to load the bases, but induced a pop out to leave three Owls stranded.
In the fourth, center fielder Edgar Montes made a nice catch on a dying liner and turned an 8-3 double play and later began an 8-6 double play on a more impressive effort, as he tracked down a deep shot to center to begin another inning-ending double play in the sixth. Before that, Lira had retired eight in a row with 1-2-3 third and fourth stanzas.
While Jarrard's double broke up the perfect performance of Ramirez, it seemed to reignite the Owls bats, as three hits, including back-to-back doubles, in the seventh off reliever AJ Monarrez, who came back with a perfect eighth, produced two more runs.
"We were teetering," said Cicuto of his team's ability to keep the score close despite running into plenty of trouble. "It wasn't as close as the score. They beat us, they flat out beat us."
A two-out single by Sergio Plasencia in the Vaquero eighth went to no avail before GCC put together one last glimmer of hope, started by a hard, groundball single with one out by Stroh. Matt McCallister, out of Verdugo Hills, followed with an infield single to third and the tandem pulled off a double steal, but it was for naught, as Ramirez induced a pair of flyouts to end the threat and the game.
"I thought our hitters had some opportunities," said Cicuto, who is the reigning division coach of the year and Southern California All-American Team's Coach of the Year after leading the Vaqs to their first-ever state final four appearance, "but not many."