GLENDALE — With a spectacular leap and a splendid snare, Glendale Community College second baseman Sergio Plasencia provided an exclamation point to the conclusion of Saturday afternoon’s California Community College Athletics Assn. Southern California Baseball Regional.
And with a flash of Plasencia’s golden glove, he secured victory and a third consecutive season of advancement to the super regionals.
Bolstered by five innings of shutout relief from the combination of Michael Robinson, Jason Kim and Keaton Leach, Glendale swept Grossmont, winning, 8-5, on Saturday to take the best-of-three regional in two straight games at Stengel Field.
“That was awesome,” said Vaqueros Coach Chris Cicuto of the victory. “They wanted to close it out. I think the mentality of closing was there.”
It was Leach who came on as the closer, earning his first save of the season. He gave up a one-out infield single and looked to have given up perhaps another base hit before Plasencia robbed Brian Lockey to end the game and send the Vaqueros into celebration and the next round.
“It feels great. We knew we had to put them away in two,” said Plasencia, who went two for two with a pair of runs and a walk. “We felt good, we felt ready. It was just a matter of getting it done.”
Having entered the postseason after winning its third straight Western State Conference South Division title, GCC (27-11) moved on to the super regionals for the third time in as many years with its sweep of Grossmont (26-12), which lost to the Vaqueros, 4-2, on Friday. The super regionals will run from Friday through Sunday at a site to be determined with teams to be determined.
Saturday’s game featured its share of shaky play, with both teams struggling on the mound and in the field, but it was the Vaqueros who won the battle of attrition under the hot sun. Very much using Cicuto’s mantra of taking it one pitch, one inning and one game at a time, the Vaqueros came back from a two-run deficit with a huge five-run third. GCC then fended off a Griffins comeback, turning a contentious 6-5 lead into an 8-5 final score.
“Coach preached this from the very start, it’s pitch by pitch,” said Kim, a Crescenta Valley High product. “That’s how we got through the downs and the ups is pitch by pitch.”
Both squads committed three errors each and both teams’ starting pitchers lasted just four innings.
GCC fell behind, 2-0, after the Griffins plated a pair of runs in the bottom of the second. (Though Glendale hosted the series at Stengel, it was the visiting team in the second game.)
“They came up early, they came up on us and we knew we had to respond,” Plasencia said. “We’ve done it all year.”
The deficit was brief, as the Vaqueros’ retort was the aforementioned five-run third inning. The Vaqueros rattled off four consecutive hits — singles by Edgar Montes, Plasencia, Pepe Marquez and Jay Sheeley to tie the game on runs by Montes and Plasencia — before a pair of Grossmont errors led to the go-ahead run. After Marquez scored for a 3-2 lead, Julian Jarrard clutched up to the tune of a two-out single to left field that drove in Sheeley and Justin Jones for a 5-2 tally.
Sheeley and Montes each had a pair of hits.
Plasencia led off the fourth with a double down the line and shortly thereafter an error and a hit batter loaded the bases. Chris Whitmer’s sacrifice fly plated Plasencia. Having built a 6-2 lead, GCC chased Grossmont starter Adam Anawalt.
Grossmont also rallied with a three-run fourth highlighted by a two-run home run from Braden Peters with the low light of two Vaqueros errors following and leading to another run.
Down, 6-5, Grossmont turned to reliever Zachary Ambrose for a second straight day. Ambrose gave up his first earned run of the season after 39 innings in Friday’s game. On Saturday, though, he threw three shutout innings before running into trouble in the top of the eighth. Montes led off with a double and after a sacrifice moved him to third, he came around to score on a balk to make it 7-5 for another earned run.
Another leadoff hit, this time a single up the middle by Jones led to the run that put the game away in the ninth, as a two-out double by Oscar Tinjaca plated Jones to account for the final tally.
All along, the Glendale bullpen held the Griffins’ offense off the scoreboard.
It started with Robinson, who labored through the fifth, walking the bases loaded, but hanging tough and inducing three flyouts, all to Montes in right field.
Robinson, who got the win, retired the leadoff batter in the sixth before Cicuto went to Kim for a lefty-lefty matchup.
“I was confident that our sophomore left-hander would go out there and give us his best,” Cicuto said.
Cicuto’s confidence was rewarded. Kim retired the first six batters he faced, throwing 2 2/3 innings of shutout ball, allowing a walk and a single in the eighth and also making two excellent defensive plays — one on a bunt and another on a high bouncer.
“My coaches have been preaching all year, come in, attack and compete,” Kim said. “I just stuck with that plan and I felt confident.”
Moving forward, Glendale will look to return to the state tournament after making its inaugural appearance in 2011. But on Saturday, it was all about celebrating the Vaqueros’ latest conquest, evidenced by the players dousing assistant Alex Kocol with a bucket a few minutes after the game.
“That was awesome,” said Cicuto of the win, roughly 20 minutes after the game’s end. “I’m still excited. Seeing Alex Kocol get doused made my weekend. That guy’s just so influential in everything we do.”