As the current Glendale Community College baseball season was on deck, Vaqueros Coach Chris Cicuto admitted how fulfilling it would be to bring home a third consecutive Western State Conference South Division, but the veteran skipper put far more of an emphasis on a game-by-game approach rather than any long term goals of continuing his team’s historic run of success.
Cliched as the one-game-at-a-time approach may be, it’s resulted in a WSC conference title three-peat and, in turn, a third straight appearance in the opening round of the 2013 California Community College Athletic Assn. Baseball Southern California Regional, as the Vaqueros will host Grossmont College in the best-of-three series at Stengel Field beginning Friday at 1 p.m.
And while there’s no doubt that Cicuto and his Vaqueros are hoping for a third straight trip to the super regionals, the approach remains the very same that got them to this point.
“We’re not here to win a regional, we’re here to win on Friday,” said Cicuto, whose team will host the second game Saturday morning at 11 and a third game, if necessary, to follow 30 minutes after. “We just want to win one inning and then the next.”
Seventh-seeded Glendale (25-11), ranked sixth in the American Baseball Coaches Assn. Junior College Pacific Associations Division poll — the third-highest Southern California team — welcomes a 10th-seeded Grossmont (26-10) squad that took second in the Pacific Coast Conference. Grossmont boasts a pitching staff and lineup rife with gaudy numbers and also the element of surprise, as Cicuto and his staff are relatively unfamiliar with their opponents going in.
“It’s a little tougher going in, not knowing anything about their pitchers,” said GCC sophomore catcher Chris Whitmer, who’s hitting .260 with a team-high four home runs, along with 22 runs, 19 runs batted in and 10 stolen bases. “We just have to go in and play our game. It got us here and it’ll get us as far as we can go.”
In 2011, the Vaqueros went all the way to the state tournament, the first time in program history they advanced to that point. Last season, GCC lost to Orange Coast in the championship game of the Orange Coast Super Regional, falling short of a repeat bid to state. Thus, the Vaqueros carry plenty of experience into their matchup.
“It’s absolutely crucial,” said Cicuto of the experience possessed by the likes of slick-fielding second baseman Sergio Plasencia, who’s been in the program for three years now, and others like sophomore Julian Jarrard (21 runs, 24 RBI) and Tyler Delzell (four saves). “All they know of Glendale college is success. I think that just helps with the confidence.”
Freshman right-hander Angel Rodriguez will get the start on the bump for the Vaqueros. Rodriguez brings a 7-2 record and a 2.51 earned-run average to the mound. Cicuto added that freshman Gary Acuna (4-1, 3.72 ERA) was set to start Saturday morning’s second game and freshman Tei Vanderford (5-3, 1.65 ERA), who can also be used out of the pen, would likely start the third.
“As a team, we feel good going into the game,” said Whitmer, whose Vaqueros ended the regular season winning eight of their last 10, having split their last four after a six-game winning streak. “We’ve got Angel on the mound and he always gives us a chance to win, so we feel good.”
Grossmont is likely to counter Rodriguez with one of three ballyhooed starters in sophomore right-hander Adam Anawalt (7-3, 2.02 ERA), freshman left-hander Kendall Lindley (7-2, 2.55 ERA) or freshman left-hander Shane Coleman (5-2, 2.49 ERA).
“As far as pitching’s concerned, they’re good,” Cicuto said.
Statistically, Grossmont’s offense also looks daunting.
The team boasts a .331 team batting average, led by the likes of sophomore infielder Dylan Garcia (.414 average, 29 runs, 26 RBI), freshman outfielder Curren Facer (.345 average, 28 runs, 25 RBI), freshman infielder Kyle Holder (.410 average, 31 runs, 19 RBI, nine stolen bases) and sophomore catcher Jesse Jenner (.331 average, 35 runs, 24 RBI).
Cicuto believes Grossmont to be a team that’s dangerous with small ball and a bit of a free swinger. Defending the small-ball approach, he said, will be key to victory.
“We’re gonna need to play defense,” said Cicuto, whose offense has been led by the likes of freshman Justin Jones (.343 average, 12 RBI, 10 runs), sophomore Pepe Marquez (.355 average, 20 runs, 21 RBI) and bolstered by the return of the injured Jay Sheeley (.380 average in 13 games). “I know our pitchers are gonna go out and do well. Defensively, collecting outs is the single most important thing. That’s our biggest emphasis.”
GCC’s aggressive offense also boasts 91 stolen bases with 17 Vaqueros having swiped at least one bag.
“I don’t know if they’ve seen a run game like outs,” Cicuto said.
Grossmont has won 12 of 14, a streak started with nine wins straight, but both losses came on the road, where Grossmont owns an 8-6 record. And it will make a long drive of roughly 140 miles north to play Glendale, traveling from El Cajon for a game forecasted to be played amid a 90-degree afternoon.
“Both teams are gonna have to deal with [the weather] mentally,” Cicuto said.
Weather not withstanding, the intensity on the diamond certainly looks to heat up with a spot in next week’s super regionals on the line and the Vaqueros looking to pull off the season’s second three-peat with a return trip.
“We know what it takes,” Whitmer said. “We know what it takes to get to super regionals, but it’s still the same game.”