Vaqueros rise above for win

NORTHEAST GLENDALE — Late in Thursday afternoon's Western State Conference South Division ballgame, Glendale Community College Coach Chris Cicuto was asked by one of his assistants if he could recall ever having won a one-run game despite having committed five errors.

Cicuto replied: "I don't know, but we're going to today."

And on a most unpredictable afternoon of baseball, Cicuto's prognostication came to fruition, as the Vaqueros, buoyed by a strong start on the mound from John La, a stellar relief appearance by Joe Stephan and a redeeming three-run home run from Sako Chapjian, defeated College of the Canyons, 5-4, at Stengel Field.

"We just stayed in the game," said Vaqueros catcher Erik Suarez of his team prevailing despite committing five errors and giving up four unearned runs. "We didn't let the errors get to us like we have in the past."

Down 1-0 with Crescenta Valley High product John Salas holding the Vaqueros at bay on offense, GCC (17-11, 8-7 in conference) erupted for four runs in the bottom of the fifth, with Suarez delivering a go-ahead double before Chapjian blasted a first-pitch offering over the fence in left-center field.

"It got to me a little bit," said Chapjian of his fielding woes, which saw him commit three errors and also bobble a double-play ball and have to settle for one out. "But I couldn't let it get to me completely because I knew I had to help the team at the plate and, sure enough, I did."

Chapjian, a Hoover High graduate, began the game at second base — a switch from third to accommodate the returning Nick Bozeman. Chapjian made two errors at second and a third when he was moved back over to third base. Josh Canales, who took over for Chapjian at second, also had two errors. But Chapjian, with one swing, almost made up for all the damage.

"Sako came up big with that home run," said Suarez, who went two for four with a run, an RBI and a stolen base. "It kind of made up for those errors."

Through it all, La, another Hoover product, persevered.

"His composure was outstanding," Cicuto said.

La went 6 1/3 innings, giving up four runs — all of them unearned — while allowing eight hits, two walks and striking out two. It was only his second start of the season.

He was relieved in the seventh by Stephen, who was making his first appearance in roughly six weeks, according to Cicuto.

"He's been chomping at the bit to get in there," Cicuto said. "He's hungrier."

Stephen pitched the final 2 2/3 innings for the save, allowing just two hits — both of them coming to lead off the ninth before he buckled down and retired the side in order.

"Our pitchers came up clutch," Suarez said. "They were great today."

With the victory over Canyons (15-13, 7-8), the Vaqueros swept the season series against the Cougars and also stayed afloat in the race for one of two automatic postseason berths within the division. Heading into Thursday, GCC was in a three-way tie for fourth along with COC and L.A. Mission and trailed first-place Bakersfield and L.A. Pierce by two games and third-place Citrus by one.

"Every win right now is big," Suarez said. "It's real big, real big."

COC took a 1-0 lead in the second thanks to a pair of two-out singles sandwiched around GCC's first error. But in the fourth, the Vaqueros finally got to Salas, who had faced the minimum over the first three innings, erasing a walk with a double play and a single to Chapjian when the latter was caught stealing.

Bolstered by the momentum of an excellent throw home by left-fielder Ellis Whitman that resulted in the last out of the top of the fourth on a play at the plate, GCC started the bottom of the fourth with a sharp single to left by leadoff man Matt McCallister. Whitman then followed with another single. After a double steal, McCallister scored with two outs on a balk to tie the game at 1.

"We got a balk call," Cicuto said, "we got a break."

The Vaqueros' offense truly broke through in the sixth, when McCallister once again ignited his team with a single to lead off. Whitman reached base again, this time on an error and Suarez, with no outs, was called on to lay down a sacrifice bunt.

"I was just trying to get a bunt down," he said. "I couldn't get it down."

Instead, he doubled to left field, scoring McCallister for the go-ahead run. That set the stage for Chapjian's redemption.

"Sako redeems himself, which is great," Cicuto said.

La met his end in the seventh, as a leadoff error was followed by a single and an one-out walk to load the bases. After allowing a run-scoring single to Cal Vogelsang, La was given the hook and Stephen was brought in. Stephen induced a perfect double-play ball and, though the Vaqueros got the runner at second, the throw to first was errant, allowing a second run to score on the play, bringing the score to 5-4.

Salas finished his day with 6 1/3 innings pitched, four earned runs given up, eight hits, two walks and five strikeouts. Fellow Crescenta Valley High product and GCC transfer Kam Krise came on in relief and held the Vaqueros scoreless thereafter, giving up just one hit as his only blemish in 1 2/3 innings of relief.

Up next for the Vaqueros is a Saturday matinee at Stengel against last-place West L.A. and, as far as they're concerned, hopefully another fine pitching performance undamaged by problems in the field.

Said Chapjian: "Out pitching staff is great. … We know that they can get it done, we just have to help them on the field."

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