Vaqueros Clinch Conference Title

Derek Stowe

At Glendale’s Stengel Field, men’s baseball went six innings neck-and-neck before?Sako Chapjian hit a?grand slam to help silence the Bakersfield Renegades 8-2 in the final game of the regular season on April 28.

For the first time since 2002, the Glendale Vaqueros locked in the Western State Conference Southern Division title. ?

“I saw the look in the [Vaqs’] eyes,” said newly awarded coach-of-the-year Chris Cicuto. “They were going to do their best possible to get a win, and they stayed with it. It was awesome.”

Fans including players’ girlfriends, friends and family looked on from their sun-drenched seats with hopeful anticipation until Chapjian took care of business in the long-awaited seventh inning. With one towering grand slam home run, it was 7-2 Vaqs and the conference title was all but signed, sealed and delivered.

The crowd went wild jumping up and down, laughing and applauding.

Glendale had blasted Bakersfield right out of the state conference.

“We were all focused in from the first pitch to the very last,” said third baseman Chapjian, who hit one grand slam last year.

“I just kept pushing myself to be better,” said Chapjian. “I practice as much as I can on the field, in the batting cages and in the weight room.”

But no player can win a ballgame alone. “It’s a full team effort getting runners in position and staying poised to do some damage,” said Cicuto.

The game’s action began when Bakersfield scored a run in the first inning by spraying two hits to right field. But starting pitcher Nick Woodward put a cap on the Renegades’ rally with two significant strike-outs followed by four routine innings.

Vaquero Josh Canales led off swinging in the third and sent Renegade pitcher Bryan Maxwell’s first pitch over the 330-foot left-field fence to tie it up, 1 all.

“I knew what he was going to throw me,” said Canales. “He came with a slider down the middle, a little bit high. I was looking for a base hit, so it felt good when it went over [the fence].”

In the Glendale sixth, Erik Suarez was hit by a pitch. Chapjian, who reached on a fielder’s choice, stole second before Spear drove him home with an RBI triple to the warning track in right-center field.

“It [sure] boosted our momentum,” said Spear.

That’s when third-base coach, Alex Kocol, called for a squeeze play.

John Schwer laid down a picture-perfect, 10-foot bunt up the first base side; Spear, already on the move, scored easily.
The fans went wild.

“I had to get [the bunt] down to help the team,” said Schwer, who extended the Vaqs’ lead to 3-1. “I wanted to get it to the first baseman, and it was a fastball outside, which helped me out.”

When Nick Bozeman smashed a line-drive base hit to right-center, the excited fans cheered for more sixth-inning Vaq magic. Pinch-runner Adam Ochart stole second, but Josh Canales’ long fly ball was caught to end the inning.

Cicuto put relief pitcher John La on the mound for the sixth and seventh. Careful pitching, a strikeout and errorless Vaq fielding held the Renegades to only one run, a solo homer by Renegade Elijah Trail in the top of the seventh. That made it 3-2 Vaqs.

In the Glendale seventh, Ryan Daniels reached on an error when Bakersfield shortstop David Pennington made a bad throw. Vaq first baseman Ellis Whitman walked, and catcher Suarez singled to third to load the bases.

Chapjian then stepped up to the plate and waited for the right pitch. It was a high fast ball straight up the middle. Chapjian cranked it deep to left; the outfielder headed back but stopped short. That ball was gone.

Immediately, the fans erupted with cheers and whistles as the whole team gathered around home plate to greet the runners as they cleared the bases. The final one to round third was Chapjian smiling from ear to ear. It was now 7-2 Vaqs.

“Sako [came] through for us again,” said Cicuto.

To make sure the Renegades’ final two at-bats were scoreless, Cicuto put Michael Noteware on the mound. His clear focus and three strikeouts won him his sixth save of the year.

Ochart and Daniels both doubled in the Glendale eighth adding one more run to the final tally, 8-2 Vaqs.

After the game, Bakersfield head coach Tim Painton congratulated Cicuto with a firm hand shake, a big hug and several minutes of praise for the coach-of-the-year and his team.

Vaq pitcher La’s two innings were enough to credit him with the win, which made Glendale 23-13 overall and 13-8 in conference games. Bakersfield fell to 20-16 and 11-10 respectively.

“It’s no real secret,” said La. “I’m just trying to throw strikes and be ahead in the count. In the last two games I only gave up two hits; they were both homeruns, but I mean. it feels amazing. I’ve never been on a championship team [before].

Holding his baby daughter, Samantha, Cicuto said, “The best part of the game was the flawless defense-no errors in the field,” said Cicuto. “We spend a lot of time on our defense and the fundamentals of the game. That work comes through for you in the end.”

As a team, the Vaqs went through a lot of adjustments this year due to losing players from injuries that contributed to their mid-season losing streak.

“The whole team knew we had the talent to do better,” said Chapjian. “Team chemistry is huge to winning games, and there’s a lot of love on this team. I’m blessed to be a part of it.”

Beating Bakersfield on April 28 qualified GCC for the Southern California Regional playoffs.

“We just have to keep on winning,” said Chapjian. “Just practice and think positive. Baseball is a mental thing.”

The Southern California Regional playoffs against Cypress College were held at home on May 6 and 7. Glendale won 2-1 in games (1-7, 9-4, 9-8).

Winning this round of playoffs means this year’s Vaqs have made school history. No GCC baseball team has ever advanced this far in the regionals.

The super regionals begin Friday at Rio Honda College in Whittier. Glendale is now No. 5 in the southern conference and will face No. 4-ranked Palomar College.

For more information, readers can visit the Glendale College website, keyword: athletics. For complete play-by-play game and season stats, go to cccaasports.org.