GLENDALE — It was just the phenomenal start the Glendale Community College baseball team was looking to get.
Faced with an unfamiliar opponent in Grossmont College, the Vaqueros turned to freshman right-hander Angel Rodriguez, whose consistent excellence has been a keystone in propelling GCC into the 2013 California Community College Athletic Assn. Baseball Southern California Regional.
Rodriguez responded with a clutch performance, hurling a complete game and leading the Vaqueros to a 4-2 win over the visiting Griffins on a hot and breezy Friday afternoon at Stengel Field in the first game of the best-of-three series.
"He's been consistent, that's all you can ask for from a starting pitcher," said Vaqueros Coach Chris Cicuto, who got a big day at the plate from Oscar Tinjaca (three runs batted in) and Justin Jones, who had a pair of hits, a run and the game-winning RBI. "It was so crucial not to get in our bullpen."
Rodriguez allowed two runs, eight hits and one walk, while striking out five. He retired the side in order to start the game and then did the same thing in the ninth, emphatically ending the contest with a 1-2-3 stanza.
"I felt great, I was ready to go," said Rodriguez, whose record improved to 8-2 after his second complete game of the season. "I actually felt stronger [in the ninth inning] than I was the first inning. I was really focused, determined to finish the game.
"I felt good, once I got the thumbs up from coach [to finish the game], I was locked in. Locked and loaded."
GCC (26-11) can close out the series and move on to the super regionals for a third straight season with a win Saturday morning at 11, with freshman left-hander Gary Acuna taking the hill for the Vaqueros against Grossmont (26-11), which will counter with right-hander Adam Anawalt. If necessary, the third game would take place 30 minutes after the second contest.
"It comes down to relief pitching, that's what it comes down to. … We didn't get it done. … It's uncharacteristic, but it happens," Griffins Coach Randy Abshier said. "It's always gonna come down to what happens on the bump and their guy went nine and they got to our bullpen."
With Pepe Marquez, who led off with a double, on third with one out in the bottom of the seventh, Jones delivered what would stand as the game-winner when he chopped a single up the middle to put the Vaqueros ahead, 3-2. The RBI came off Grossmont reliever Zachary Ambrose, who entered the game with a 0.00 earned-run average through 38 innings.
"We had runners in scoring position, we had to cash in," Jones said. "Last time I was up, I didn't cash in.
"I was just trying to make contact."
Jones collected a big insurance run later in the inning when he scored on a sacrifice fly by Tinjaca.
Prior to his eighth-inning at-bat, Jones had struck out with runners at second and third and no outs in the bottom of the fifth. The next batter flew out, but not before a suicide squeeze went awry for the second out.
The Vaqueros offense started strong to the tune of a two-run first inning. Jones notched a one-out single, Chris Whitmer (one hit, two walks) followed with a walk and Austin Walker (two for two, two walks) singled to left to load the bases. Tinjaca followed with a single that he pulled to right field to score Jones and Whitmer.
Thereafter, the run production wavered for the Vaqueros, though the opportunities were still aplenty.
"We came out strong," Jones said. "I guess in the middle innings we were still hitting the ball, they were just making plays."
Rodriguez, who retired the first eight batters he faced, was finally touched up in the fourth when he gave up a leadoff double and a pair of singles to follow that cut the lead to 2-1. He was aided mightily by Marquez, who fielded a high bouncer at short and made a laser of a throw to nip the runner and end the threat with a runner at third.
Grossmont tied the game in the fifth after a hard-hit single to center field was fielded by Jay Sheeley, who came up with a perfect BB to home plate. The ball was fielded cleanly, but dropped on contact by the catcher. It was one of two errors in the game for the Vaqueros, but for the most part, their defense came through, further accentuated by another standout play from Marquez to end the seventh and a nice sliding catch from Sheeley in the ninth.
"It takes away so much stress, it's amazing," said Rodriguez of having a solid defense behind him. "I could not have gone the whole game without my defense."
Offensively, following the first inning, the Vaqueros stranded eight runners, had one picked off, another tagged out on the aforementioned squeeze and hit into two double plays, including one in the sixth after they'd loaded the bases with no outs.
"It was a really exciting ball game. I thought the score didn't reflect on how we were playing," Cicuto said. "I wasn't worried at all [about stranding base runners]. I kept telling the guys don't get caught up with the results."
True to form, the Vaqueros' approach maintained and the results eventually came to fruition in the seventh.
Though the Vaqueros are obviously in the driver's seat, neither side of the diamond hesitated to point out the series is still up in the air.
"We're not in any means giving up the series," Abshier said. "I think we match up well with this club — obviously the score shows it.
"It's gonna come down to who executes."
Hence, there was no kind of huge celebration for the Vaqueros after their triumph.
"We've all been here before," Jones said. "We're not getting all big-headed because the job's not done yet."