GLENDALE — Three comebacks was plenty for the Glendale Community College baseball team through 10 innings.
Thus, when Max Fecske flared a fly ball to shallow left field, the Vaqueros, and more accurately third base coach Alex Kocol, were going for the win.
“As we came into [the 10th] inning, Coach [Chris Cicuto] gave us a talk and said we had to battle back,” said GCC freshman Mike McCallister, who reached base in the 10th with a one-out bunt single and was standing on third with the game tied and still one away. “As soon as I got back to the bag, coach Kocol said, ‘Go.’ Immediately, I just took off and I wasn’t stopping.”
It was the right call and the right slide, as McCallister slid in safely across the outside of the plate, avoiding the tag and sending the Vaqueros into a delirium and first place in the Western State Conference South Division with an 8-7 win in the bottom of the 10th inning over L.A. Mission at Stengel Field.
“That was a bang-bang play, it doesn’t get much closer than that, I’m glad coach Kocol sent him. I want to go for the win there,” said Cicuto, whose team drew even with Bakersfield at 8-2 in the standings and upped its overall mark to 13-5 with its third consecutive victory. “That puts us in first.
“Obviously, we’re not thinking about championships right now, we’re just taking it one game at a time.”
On Thursday, the Vaqueros, the two-time defending conference champs, took it one comeback at a time.
Down, 3-0, in the bottom of the fifth, the Vaqueros took the lead when Austin Walker hit a one-out, bases-loaded double. Mission (8-10, 5-5 in conference) took the lead right back in the top of the sixth on a run-scoring single and a suicide squeeze.
Down, 5-4, in the bottom of the ninth, Fecske came up clutch for the first time, as the late substitution doubled with one away. After moving to third on a groundout, he came around to tie the game when a bullet hit by Edgar Montes was booted by the Mission second baseman.
“Even though it was an error, he hit the crap out of that ball,” Cicuto said.
But the error bug bit the Vaqueros right back in the top of the 10th, as Mission plated a pair of unearned runs to take a 7-5 advantage heading into the bottom of the stanza.
Walker came up big once more, though, leading off with a stand-up double.
“It’s kinda been a rough season for me,” said Walker, a sophomore who was the only Vaquero with multiple hits. “I’ve been pressing a little bit, but I’ve been telling myself just to relax a bit. It paid off.”
After Walker moved to third on a groundout, he scored on a sharp single to right by Chris Whitmer to cut the lead to 7-6.
Thereafter, McCallister reached to put runners on the corners, Sergio Plasencia was hit by a pitch to load the bases and the game was tied when Pepe Marquez laid down a perfect safety squeeze to score pinch-runner Eddie Munoz.
“You never know who’s gonna do it,” McCallister said, “but it’s gonna happen.”
Following Marquez’ bunt, Fecske provided the final heroics.
Hoover product Tyler Delzell retired one batter in the 10th to get the win, pitching out of a jam with two runners on. Delzell relieved Spencer Jack, who, despite giving up two unearned runs, pitched excellently, going 3 2/3 innings, allowing five hits, one walk and striking out two.
Just as important as playing into a first-place tie, the victory also moved the Vaqueros away from the rest of the pack, as Mission came in tied for third with College of the Canyons.
“Most importantly, it separates us from the pack behind us,” said Cicuto, as the top two teams in the conference will clinch a postseason berth.
Perhaps just as pivotal was the comeback nature in which the Vaqueros notched their dramatic win.
“Today was a huge win,” Walker said, “showing we’re always in it and we can play with our backs against the wall.”