Success is quickly becoming synonymous with the Glendale Community College baseball program in its current three-season run to unprecedented heights.
For a third year in a row, the Vaqueros will ride into the super regionals and for a second straight year, that journey will take them south to Orange County.
"Guys are excited. Guys are less nervous than they were this time last week," said Vaqueros Coach Chris Cicuto, whose squad opens up play at the Fullerton College Super Regional at 11 a.m. Friday against Palomar. "At this point, I think they're pretty confident. They know it's gonna be tough, but they're ready to play."
Palomar (26-12) heads into its showdown with Glendale (27-11) having won the Pacific Coast Conference before defeating Orange Coast in three games in the opening regional round. It was an Orange Coast squad that ended GCC's season a year ago and advanced to the state championship.
Glendale, the three-time reigning Western State Conference South Division champion, swept through Grossmont in its regional, winning impressively and seemingly doing away with any playoff jitters.
"We feel really good. We feel really loose, that's the great part," said sophomore second baseman Sergio Plasencia of the Vaqueros' mindset going into the super regionals. "We have a lot of sophomores who know what to expect."
Joining fifth-seeded Glendale and No. 4 Palomar in the regional will be host Fullerton (27-12), the top seed, and El Camino Compton (24-16), the eighth seed. Fullerton and El Camino will play following GCC's opener, with the winners of both games facing each other Saturday and the losers taking part in an elimination game. The championship of the double-elimination tournament will take place Sunday.
"[We have] game-planned it out win or lose. If we can, we would love to save [starting pitcher] Angel [Rodriguez] for the elimination/regional championship game," Cicuto said. "If we could go three [games], that would be unbelievable, but we're prepared to go five."
Standing immediately in front of GCC is a Palomar team that's quite foreign to the Vaqueros.
"We don't really have a real scouting report besides the numbers," said Cicuto of Palomar, which went 4-1 in conference play against Grossmont this year and is also 0-2 against Fullerton. "We got a feel for it, now it's about going in and making in-game adjustments and playing baseball. It's nothing we haven't done already this year."
Sophomores Chris Sanders (.338 average, 26 runs and 24 RBI) and Nico Garbella (.301 average, 30 RBI, 22 runs) lead Palomar at the dish, but at least statistically speaking, it's the pitching staff that appears most daunting.
Vaughn Berberet (5-1, 1.08 ERA through 50 innings) allowed just four hits and no runs over eight innings in the decisive third game against Orange Coast, earning the victory with closer Zach Wilkins (1.12 ERA, 22 strikeouts in 24 innings) notching his 11th save of the season.
Anthony McIver also boasts a 5-1 record and a 2.39 ERA, while Kyle Montiel sports a 7-2 record with a 2.68 ERA.
As it stands, Cicuto is giving the Palomar start to left-hander Gary Acuna (5-1, 4.24 earned-run average). Acuna went just four innings in the deciding second game against Grossmont, but immediately after the game, Cicuto expressed his confidence in him going forward and did so further Thursday.
"If he's on, he can beat anybody in the state," Cicuto said.
Rodriguez (8-2, 2.44 ERA) went the distance, throwing a gem in the opener against Grossmont. A trio of relievers also came in during the second game to hold Grossmont scoreless over the final five innings of the second game. Not to mention, standout Tei Vanderford (5-3, 1.65 ERA), who's been used as a starter and reliever, has yet to be used this postseason.
Defensively, the Vaqueros have been borderline phenomenal all season long, highlighted by their play up the middle, as center fielder Jay Sheeley covers a lot of ground and shortstop Pepe Marquez and Plasencia have been outstanding in the middle of the infield.
"Again, it's gonna be defense [that is the key to winning]," Cicuto said. "It's gonna be about collecting outs."
Offensively, Glendale's numbers hardly jump off the page. Sheeley leads the starting nine with a .373 average, though he's missed a good portion of the year with an injury, and Justin Jones (.359 average, 14 runs, 13 RBI) and Pepe Marquez (.350 average, 22 runs, 22 RBI) have also put up solid numbers. For the most part, though, the GCC offense, which has a .277 team average, has received contributions up and down the lineup from different players on different days. In addition, the Vaqueros have swiped 91 stolen bases, with 17 players stealing at least one base.
"In a way, that's what we call it, playing Vaqs baseball," said Plasencia, who's hitting .250 with 27 runs, 27 walks and nine stolen bases. "It's our own style of baseball that works for us."
Elsewhere in the tourney, host Fullerton (27-12) is the Orange Empire Conference champion and the No. 2-ranked team in state. Among its talent-laden roster is Crescenta Valley High product Troy Mulcahey, a former All-Area Baseball Player of the Year, who's hitting .348 with 11 doubles, 23 runs and 29 RBI. He's also been hugely important on the mound, tallying a 3-2 record with a 2.14 ERA and 36 strikeouts in 46 1/3 innings.
Fullerton's first tournament foe is an El Camino Compton squad that received the tournament's lowest seed after pulling off the biggest upset. After entering as the No. 16 seed and needing to defeat Santa Barbara City in a play-in game, El Camino then took down No. 2 Riverside in three games. Compton tied for second in the South Coast Conference and is led by the likes of Juan Avena (.396 average, 34 runs, 28 RBI) and David Terarzas (.435 average, 21 runs, 18 RBI).
The other Southern California Super Regional is hosted by second-seeded Saddleback, which opens up against No. 7 College of the Canyons, GCC's conference rival. No. 3 Mt. SAC also opens with No. 6 Cypress.
While it's safe to say this season has already been a success, it's surely not reason to be content for the Vaqueros, yet. Plasencia, for one, is in his third season with the program, having been injured in 2011 when the Vaqueros broke out and advanced all the way to the state. Thus, he's seen the program grow into prominence, but he wants to be a part of the ultimate success.
"Teams are winning, teams are great," he said, "but we want to be the team that's legendary."