FULLERTON — Timely hitting throughout the order and reliable relief pitching have been staples of Glendale Community College baseball success this season.
On Friday afternoon, however, they were the Vaqueros' undoing.
GCC stranded 13 base runners and its bullpen allowed two runs, as the Vaqueros lost to Palomar, 3-2, in the opening game of the Fullerton Super Regional of the CCCAA tournament at Fullerton College.
"We really didn't play our game," said Vaqueros Coach Chris Cicuto, whose team will now play either El Camino Compton Saturday morning at 10 a.m. at Santa Ana College, hoping to move on and into another elimination game Saturday afternoon at Fullerton. "They were nervous today, the day I didn't think we would be nervous.
"We did have opportunities with runners in scoring position and we didn't get the big hit."
Palomar (26-12), which won the Pacific Coast Conference, stranded plenty of runners in its own right with a final tally of eight. However, the Comets — who will play Fullerton, which beat Compton, 8-0, Saturday at 11 a.m. — tallied a run in the bottom of the second and clung to the lead before coming back in the eighth, scoring a pair of runs against the GCC pen before closing out the win.
The Western State Conference South Division champion Vaqueros (27-11) stranded runners in seven innings, including the ninth, and loaded the bases in three separate innings. Yet, all looked to have come to form when Pepe Marquez clutched up in the top of the eighth inning.
"The same approach," said Marquez of his mindset going into the at-bat with his team down, 1-0, and the bases loaded and two outs. "I just did what I could. Luckily it fell down.
"Everybody was up, they were screaming."
Indeed, it seemed as though the Vaqueros' season long formula of clutch-hitting heroics was coming to fruition after Marquez dropped a single into center field to score Austin Walker (two walks, hit) and Eddie Munoz.
"That's how we've done it all year long," Cicuto said.
But the lead was a brief one, as the Comets jumped right back ahead with a pair of runs in the bottom of the eighth.
GCC's Tyler Delzell, out of Hoover, came on in the bottom of the seventh with runners on first and third with one out. Before his second pitch, he picked off the runner at first, which led to a rundown with the runner at third and, ultimately, the second out. Three strikes later, Delzell induced a flyout to left field and the threat was over.
But when Delzell remerged in the eighth with a 3-2 lead, trouble struck.
After striking out the leadoff batter, Delzell walked a batter, hit the next, threw a wild pitch to put both runners in scoring position and then allowed a game-tying single to Dennis Morton through a drawn-in infield.
"That's a recipe for disaster," said Cicuto of walking a batter and then hitting one.
Cicuto then went to Sam Frakes. With one away, Frakes gave up a sacrifice fly to deep center field by Denny Vigo to score Dylan Navarro for the go-ahead and eventual game-winning run. Frakes gave up a double to follow, but then notched a strikeout to end the threat.
Still, the damage had been done and the momentum was all but gone for the Vaqueros.
That changed a bit when Chris Whitmer drew his second walk of the day – and sixth for GCC, which also had nine hits – to lead off the top of the ninth. Then controversy struck.
Pinch runner Mike McCallister was then picked off first. It appeared that he slid back safely on the throw back, but upon contact with the first baseman couldn't keep his hand on the bag and was called out. Cicuto argued vehemently, but to no avail.
With two outs, pinch-hitter Max Fecske breathed one last breath of hope into the Vaqs, as he beat out an infield single to shortstop. The Comets were actually out of the dugout to celebrate thinking Fecske was out, but the celebration was forced to wait for one more batter.
"I think there's a collision at first base. To me, it's not a great call, you have to have more savvy and more of a feel for the game," said Cicuto, who added that he believe Fecske's safe call was a make-up call. "That's the way the cookie crumbles sometimes."
Had McCallister remained on base with no outs, certainly things would've been interesting. But the Vaqueros' undoing was brewing long before.
In the first inning, they loaded the bases with one out, but the inning was ended when Justin Jones, the only Vaquero with two hits, was caught stealing home.
"He kinda got too excited," Cicuto said, "thought he heard something."
Singles by Jay Sheeley and Oscar Tinjaca in the third and fourth innings, respectively, went to waste before a truly disheartening sixth inning.
Jones led off with a single and Whitmer joined him on the bases after an error. A Walker bunt followed, going roughly 12 feet and coming to a stop on the dirt just shy of rolling foul to load the bases with no outs.
Tinjaca then came to the plate and roped a line drive, but it was right at the second baseman, who turned a 4-6 double play. But the rally still wasn't dead, as Julian Jarrard walked to reload the bases. But a one-pitch flyout to right field harmlessly followed.
"That kind of stuff can't happen," said Cicuto of his team's propensity to swing early in clutch situations and pop up.
The seventh was more frustration for the Vaqueros, as Sergio Plasencia led off with a double and then slid around a tag after a sacrifice bunt to put runners on the corners with no outs. But Palomar starter Anthony McIver once again wiggled free, retiring the side in order after that.
"The guy got himself out of some jams," said Cicuto of McIver, who went 7 2/3 innings, allowing eight hits and five walks, but just two runs.
Meanwhile, GCC starter Gary Acuna kept the Vaqueros in striking distance.
He went 6 1/3 innings, allowing five hits and four walks, but just one run, which came in the second inning after a pair of walks and an infield single.
"He wasn't sharp, but he challenged them with his fastball," Cicuto said.
Acuna was also helped out by Whitmer turning in two big plays when he notched the third out of the second by fielding a wild pitch and tagging out a runner trying to score and, in the third, recorded the third out again off another wild pitch with a runner trying to take third. Sheeley made a marvelous rangy catch in the sixth just before Jarrard made a spectacular play at third in which he stretched all the way out to make a diving stop before springing up and making a great throw to first for the out.
Highlights on the offensive end remained hard to find for the Vaqueros until finally breaking through in the eighth.
Now, they'll have to break through Saturday morning to keep their season alive.
Vaqueros ace Angel Rodriguez will get the start.
Said Cicuto: "At some point our guys are gonna have to play their game."