CAC forces Game 3 with win over Arizona Western
SIGNAL PEAK — Facing a series defeat in the Region 1 playoffs, Central Arizona College needed a strong pitching performance from Ryley Widell on Friday afternoon.
However, the Region 1 championship is not an elimination series, as both teams will participate in next week's Western District championship regardless of the outcome.
Widell pitched eight innings, giving up just three hits as the Vaqueros took advantage of an error by Arizona Western center fielder Landon Riker in the fourth inning for a 1-0 win — leveling the best-of-three series at a game apiece and forcing a decisive third game at noon on Saturday.
"I can't say enough of Ryley Widell on the mound," CAC coach Anthony Gilich said. "A heck of a job and Peyton (Remy) came in and closed it out. It was a good win. We needed it."
By going eight innings, Widell also saved a bullpen that was taxed in Thursday's 8-2 loss in which the Vaqueros (40-20) used four pitchers after starter Grant Townsend exited following the sixth inning.
But on Friday, it was Widell who kept Arizona Western hitters off balance — using his changeup and throwing it for strikes, regardless of the count.
"I just felt really comfortable with it," Widell said of his changeup. "I felt like I was just getting ahead on the hitters. They just seemed a little uncomfortable at the plate, and that was my goal throughout the day."
Widell struck out seven and walked one. He gave up a hit in the first inning and two more hits in the fourth while allowing just two baserunners to reach second.
"It was good. We were locked in for all nine innings, and all I needed was one run basically," Widell said. "I wanted to go all nine innings, but that didn't work out. I felt good. The team felt good and we are looking forward to the next game."
Widell left after eight innings with 110 pitches and handed the ball off to Remy, who pitched the ninth. Remy gave up a hit and struck out two; he got Western's Spencer Packard looking at strike three to end the game.
"We feel good about tomorrow. We are coming off a win and they are coming off a loss, so we feel good. We will have Will McAffer, and he's been good for us and we expect to play well tomorrow," Gilich said. "I think the pressure is on them. We don't feel the pressure. They got Game 1 and they were feeling good. Now they are coming off the loss, we are coming off the win and it's on our field, so we are feeling pretty good about it."
It was the only hiccup on the afternoon for Western (41-20) starter Eric Ligda, who was just as masterful as Widell, pitching a complete game while allowing three hits and striking out four and walking one.
If CAC wins Saturday, it will host the district tournament beginning next weekend. If the Vaqueros lose, then Arizona Western will host the tournament. Either way, CAC will play in the district championship, looking for its first trip to the NJCAA College World Series since 2011.
"We try not to think that way. We try to play this as an elimination game," Gilich said. "The Region 1 championship would mean something to us if we get it. Hosting the district would mean something to us and continuing to roll would mean something to us. When you are a competitor, you want to win. I don't expect to take the foot off the gas, and we will give our best tomorrow and see what happens."