The Central Arizona College Vaqueros kick off the NJCAA Western District Baseball finals on Thursday at 12 noon in Yuma, and this years tournament is hosted by Region 1 winner Western Arizona.
The Cowboys start off the double elimination tournament against the College of Southern Nevada, this years District XVIII winner. Southern Nevada lost their first game in their tournament, but won the final four to get here. The Coyotes finished 41-15 and 24-7, and beat Yavapai College in the season opening tournament in Las Vegas, but then lost consecutive games to two other teams in their bracket this year, Arizona Western and Central Arizona.
But that was a looooooooong time ago. Southern Nevada has changed and so has Central Arizona.
Central Arizona has climbed further than ever in head coach Anthony Gilich's third year. This year's team didn't start 17-0 like the 2016 team, but they did start at 11-2 before a three game losing streak, and when the year was over, the team never lost more than three in a row, and put together a string of winning nine conference games of ten when they had to in April.
You wanna finish hot right?
Central finished at 16-7 when it really counted. The coaches sorted and sorted, hunched and hunched, worked and worked, talked and talked, and in the end of the season, ended up in second place in the conference, where they hadn't been all year.
YOU try that when you get a returning team of five players. And when you have five key players injured, some of them badly. Like Brad Morgan. But you saw players blossom in the end, like Andrew Chartrand, Justice Nakagawa, and Ryley Widell. All the catchers turned into starters for any team. Chris Diehl, Ty Johnson and Isaiah Garcia are the best in the conference as a trio. You always had to ask who was in left or right, but it was never after a fluff or misplay. There was solid outfield play all year long. The bat and play of Brent Bailey never slumped all year. And if you didn't notice Jake Vander Wal early, you sure did late. Huh what?? 40 RBI's???
And the small surprises from Grant Townsend and Peyton Remy. Money all year. And when you needed the big game, there was none bigger than Ryley Widell. It's sad, but it's like this, you don't quite notice the Pikai's and the Alix Garcias and the Roger Varelas, because they're always doing their thing, like they're expected to. And they did.
Ask any of the coaches how they were feeling half way through. Although there weren't many doubts as to the quality of the club, there were many, many questions that had to be answered.
And they were.
This year is already the most memorable of the past three. What a battle.
Here's to your health kid.
Central only has to not lose twice to head to the NJCAA Championship Series in Grand Junction. It's really fun when you're playing your best baseball at the end of the season.