Vaqueros edge South Mountain to advance to Region 1 title series
SIGNAL PEAK — Ryley Widell's best performance of the season could not have come at a more opportune time for the Central Arizona College baseball team.
Not only did Widell throw his first complete game of the season, the left-hander did not allow a run as the Vaqueros nipped visiting South Mountain 1-0 on Friday to advance to the championship round of the Division I Region 1 tournament.
"Pretty special," is the succinct way CAC coach Anthony Gilich described the gem by Widell, who allowed five hits, struck out 12 and walked two.
Ty Johnson's double with nobody out in the bottom of the seventh inning drove in the game's lone run.
The second-seeded Vaqueros (39-19) swept the best-of-three series against the third-seeded Cougars (35-23) and will play at top-seeded Cochise or host fourth-seeded Arizona Western in next week's best-of-three region title series. Cochise and Western play a decisive Game 3 in their semifinal series on Saturday.
Both region tournament finalists will play in the Western District tournament May 18-20, which will be at the site of the Region 1 champ.
"We're excited about the opportunity to play for the region championship," Gilich said. "Even though we can't be eliminated next week, we're going to try to win that thing" and host the four-team district tourney, which is double elimination. The Western District champion advances to the NJCAA World Series in Grand Junction, Colorado.
Widell and fellow Hawaiian Pono Anderson hooked up for a mesmerizing pitchers' duel for the second time in two weeks. On April 22 at CAC, Widell allowed one run in eight innings and Anderson gave up two in 8 1/3 before the Vaqueros prevailed 3-2 in 10 innings.
With the stakes even higher, it was more of the same on Friday. Widell (6-2, 2.36 ERA) stranded four runners in scoring position, including two at third base.
"It's just baseball," Widell said. "I was just trying to throw strikes, get outs and let my defense do their work."
Widell retired the leadoff batter seven times and struck out two or more in an inning four times. Two of his strikeouts came in the second after the Cougars put runners at second and third with one out. He had an inning-ending strikeout in the fifth with a runner at second and another in the sixth with runners at first and third.
"My changeup was my weapon today," Ridell said. "I could throw it anywhere in the count. My goal is to get first-pitch strikes and get the leadoff guys out. That really takes a weight off your shoulders."
Andrew Chartrand and Varela singled to begin the sixth. They were stranded at third and second, respectively, when Anderson induced an inning-ending groundout.
The Vaqueros finally broke through in the seventh. Brent Bailey led off with a double and scored on Johnson's opposite-field double down the right-field line.
"We had Ryley on the mound and I knew if we got one run on the board, it was ours," Johnson said. "I had two strikes on me and I was trying to make sure I hit something to the right side. Luckily I got it done, and we're moving on."
Anderson was lifted with one out in the seventh after giving up his third consecutive hit and seventh total. Vander Wal singled, but Johnson was thrown out at the plate by left fielder Alonso Bibiano attempting to score.
"That was a pretty big mistake sending him with nobody out, but the guys bailed me out," Gilich said.
Varela and Vander Wal both had two of CAC's nine hits. Nick Lacayo had two hits for South Mountain, including a one-out double in the second that put runners at second and third.