By ED PETRUSKA Contributing Writer-Pinal Central
SIGNAL PEAK – Call it a double debacle for the Central Arizona College baseball team.
Pima put a crimp in the CAC's playoff hopes by sweeping a doubleheader from the Vaqueros on Tuesday. The Aztecs rallied from a 5-0 deficit to prevail 7-6 in the regulation seven-inning opener and humiliated Central 16-2 in Game 2, which also ended after seven under the 10-run rule.
"That's the worst game in my 12 years here," CAC coach Anthony Gilich said of Game 2. "It was terrible. The guys weren't ready to play and that's on me. I'm embarrassed that in Game 46 of the season, that's what we put on the field."
The Vaqueros (30-16, 16-12 Arizona Community College Athletic Conference) have 10 games left to make up ground in the chase for a berth in the four-team Division I Region 1 tournament. They entered Tuesday's play trailing fourth-place Arizona Western by one game and were two behind co-leaders Cochise and Yavapai.
But losing twice against a Pima team they swept earlier this season is not going to help their cause.
"We're chasing now," Gilich said. "We had a big opportunity to be right in the thick of it and we let it slip away."
Asked if CAC could bounce back, Gilich said: "We don't have a choice. We have to or cash it in, which is not what we're going to do. Time is limited, but we're going to try to win the last 10 games and see what happens."
Aided by a big inning in each game, the Aztecs (30-14, 16-11 ACCAC) remained in the playoff hunt. Pima scored five runs in the fifth inning of the opener to tie it 6-6 and snapped a 1-1 deadlock in Game 2 with an eight-run fifth.
The Vaqueros were limited to six hits in each game.
A three-run third featured Zach Hogueisson's RBI double and Hunter Jump's sacrifice fly.
After the Aztecs scored one in the fourth against Central starter Dakota Donovan, the Vaqueros answered in the bottom of the inning when Brennan Reback tripled and scored on Matt Aribal's single.
Donovan had to leave the game after being struck in the knee by a batted ball with one out in the fifth. Pima went on to score five runs (three unearned).
JJ Rollon's one-out RBI single in the sixth after a leadoff double by Javier Nava put Pima up 7-6.
Liam Spence was stranded following a two-out triple in the CAC sixth. Pima reliever Austin Bryan retired the Vaqueros in order in the seventh.
Rafael Padilla gave Pima a 1-0 lead in Game 2 with a leadoff homer in the second. Central tied it in the third without getting a hit, with the run scoring on a fielder's choice grounder by Aribal.
CAC starter Avery Jones departed with nobody out in the fifth after allowing a leadoff triple by Phillip Sikes, Padilla's RBI single, another single and a sacrifice bunt that turned into a run-scoring error.
Central's three relievers in the fifth combined to issue four walks and three-run scoring wild pitches. Padilla, who went 3 for 3, capped the rally with a two-run single. Five of the eight runs were unearned.
The Aztecs finished off the Vaqueros, who were 16-2 at home prior to Tuesday, with a three-run sixth and a four-run seventh.
CAC's six pitchers combined for 11 walks, two hit batters and six wild pitches while allowing 13 hits. The Vaqueros also had two passed balls.
Pima starter Conner Nantkes gave up four hits in 5 1/3 innings. He struck out eight, walked four and hit one.
Clayton Keyes had a leadoff double in the Central sixth and came around on Jacob McKeon's one-out RBI single off reliever Angel Castillo.