NORTHEAST GLENDALE — Set against the backdrop of Glendale Community College's baseball team vying for its greatest win of the season, Sean Spear fittingly turned in the greatest performance of his sophomore campaign.
Playing against first-place L.A. Pierce, his former team, the Oaks Christian product hit for the cycle with a second triple added on, drove in seven runs and scored four more to propel GCC to an 18-9 win on Thursday afternoon at Stengel Field and into a first-place tie atop the Western State Conference South Division.
"It's the biggest one of the season," said GCC Coach Chris Cicuto of the victory, the 20th of the year for the Vaqueros (20-11, 11-7 in conference), which put them into a first-place stalemate with Pierce (18-12, 11-7) that will be settled on Saturday when the Brahmas host a 1 p.m. contest between the two. "And how 'bout Sean Spear."
While the showdown for first ended in lopsided fashion with the Vaqueros claiming 18 runs on 11 hits, through the first five and a half innings it was a tight 3-3 game with the Vaqueros struggling for hits — all except for Spear, who went five for five and scored his team's first two runs.
"I was really excited to play this game," said Spear, who began his college days at Pierce before transferring to USC and then GCC. "I've been hot lately.
"It was exciting, it was an exciting win. It establishes us in first place where we should be."
Spear ignited the Vaqueros in the game-changing and game-clinching bottom of the sixth — a stanza in which Glendale turned a 3-3 stalemate into an 11-3 blowout with an eight-run eruption and a Pierce implosion.
Four Pierce pitchers allowed three hits, a walk and hit four batters during the frame.
It all began with Spear, who dropped a triple into left field that rolled past a diving outfielder to lead off the inning.
Spear would score the go-ahead run on a sacrifice fly by Nick Bozeman, who was also hit by two pitches and walked. In all, GCC batters were hit by a pitch six times and drove in four runs on sacrifice flies.
John Schwer and Ryan Daniels scored on a single by Matt McCallister and a subsequent error to make it 6-3 on a play that began a forgettable sequence for the Brahmas and one that continued the Vaqs on their way to winning their fifth straight.
"We came in and were doing what we've been doing," said McCallister, a Verdugo Hills product who went three for five with a pair of runs and a pair of RBIs. "Everybody's been seeing the ball so great, having great at-bats."
Pierce starter David Carver pitched into the sixth, but the Brahmas went to the pen after Bozeman's sac fly, which proved to be a huge turning point.
"Pierce's starters are very good, but no one can beat our bullpen," Spear said. "Our goal is always to get to the other team's bullpen and we kinda call it our devastating inning, cause that's when the Vaqueros take off."
And the Vaqueros were mightily aided in their launching sequence, as McCallister's single was followed by three straight Vaqueros being hit by pitches on three consecutive pitches by two different pitchers. The last of which came with the bases loaded, giving Sako Chapjian one of his easiest RBIs of the season as he forced in McCallister for a 7-3 score.
Following Chapjian, Spear stepped up to the plate with the bases loaded and a home run needed for the cycle.
"I knew I was one hit away, I wanted it so bad," Spear said. "I've been close before, but I've never gotten the home run. Today was the first time I got the home run."
On a 1-1 offering, Spear sent a shot to center field for an 11-3 advantage.
The onslaught was far from over, as two more GCC runs came across in the seventh, keyed by a run-scoring McCallister bloop single, before the bases were loaded once more for Spear. On the fourth pitch of the at-bat, Spear was hit by a pitch, but the umpire signaled him back to the plate for not making an effort to get out of the way. The judgment call did nothing to help the Brahmas, as Spear tripled to right to score McCallister, Erik Suarez and Chapjian for a 16-3 lead.
Thereafter, the game took its time in completing with three Pierce runs in the eighth and three more in the ninth — on six walks and a sac fly — sandwiched around a two-run eighth for GCC in which Daniels, who scored three runs, belted a two-run home run.
Hoover graduate John La started for GCC, going 5 1/3 innings and allowing nine hits, three runs and striking out three to no walks. He was relieved by Joe Stephen in the top of the sixth. Stephen would record two outs and notch the win out of the pen.
"John La did an outstanding job again," Cicuto said. "We have confidence in our staff that if we go to the bullpen we can hold anyone. That was really the difference. Their bullpen was out of arms."
At the onset, Pierce took a 1-0 lead in the second before GCC countered with a Chris Stroh sacrifice fly to tie the game in the bottom of the inning, scoring Spear.
Pierce went back up with a run in the top of the fourth, but once more GCC answered in its half of the inning when Spear scored on an error. Glendale then took the lead in the fifth when McCallister tripled and scored on a Suarez sac fly.
"We executed the game very well," Cicuto said.
Thus, with big days from Spear and McCallister and plenty of sacrifice flies and doses taken from the entire lineup, the Vaqueros find themselves riding a wave of momentum down the stretch.
"We sacrificed and executed," McCallister said. "We're playing very well. We have such great team chemistry, we know what we all can do and we know how to back each other up."
With five games remaining and three in conference, GCC has also set itself up in position to clinch one of two automatic postseason spots, but Cicuto is quick to point out that plenty more can happen in the season.
"We're in first place, couldn't be happier," he said, "but we're not done yet."