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Vaqueros 2017 Season One To Remember

Jake Vander Wal crosses with winner
Jake Vander Wal crosses with winner

So yes, there is a problem starting 17-0 as Central Arizona College did in the 2016 baseball season. The problem is, if you start 11-3 the next year, it makes it seem as if the team has problems, talent gaps, it's a down year.

"I don't have any problems starting 17-0" said head coach Anthony Gilich....wryly.

The 2016 Vaqueros finished 45-14 and the ACCAC regular season champs. The 2017 Vaqueros finished in second place with a 42-23 record, and a game away from the NJCAA Championship Tournament. 

So....eh. 

It's all how you finish. With this grueling schedule, nobody will glide across on a white stallion after dealing with injuries and player drama and just plain fatigue. You're mostly dragged into post-season on gurnies. Sometimes the fun as a fan is watching how the staff responds through their yearly adversities and this year was as fascinating as can be.

Brad Morgan probably would have been the starting shortstop but had a severe throwing shoulder problem and the hope was to have him back possibly half way through, but he sufferered a setback about mid-season. He was able to hit and finished at .307 with three triples. When the dust cleared, it was sophomore Justice Nakagawa at shortstop and he did very well. 

The fun before each game was to see who was in the outfield. It was a complete mix for much of the year. In the end, you'd probably find Andrew Chartrand, Brent Bailey and Jake Vander Wal out there. Or maybe Ty Johnson. This outfield played a solid outfield all year long. 

The solids were Pikai Duque-Wicnchester at second, Roger Varela at third and Alix Garcia at first. Even at the end of the season, it almost didn't matter which of the three catchers was back there, they could all throw, block the ball, and hit. Each catcher hit over .300 (ok so Chris Diehl ended at .299). Isaiah Garcia hit .317 and Ty Johnson hit everything in sight down the stretch to end at .352.

Fun!

So with all that Matt Kroon can do, what pro scout or coach will place him where? He can play anywhere, and that's what he did. Left-sider Roger Varela played at first base. You found yourself thinking and counting on a win when Ryley Widell and Grant Townsend started games, and when Peyton Remy ambled out, you felt great about the day. It's great to have a handful of able, talked-about relievers in the stable, but yet, when Nick Trogerlic-Iverson relieved the day's starter, you thought to yourself how good a starter he could be. Relievers Bradley Gonzales and Sati Santa Cruz had these nagging, yet dibillitating little injuries all year long. You can't even say how much help Koa Eastlack would have been without his injuries. 

The pitching staff was third in the D1 nation in total strikeouts.

Telling stat: The Vaqueros were caught stealing more than anyone in D1. What's not to love.

The Vaqueros offense led the conference in hits. Also in triples. 

Favorite pitchers and coaches stat: Central led the ACCAC in double plays, by a good margin.

The 2017 team had a confident group of coaches and players at season's end, so isn't that it? With all that you go through during the year, if you feel fantastic about your team as the Vaqueros did when post-season started, you've really done something. Everyone knew these players had a chance at the whole thing. 

By the way, scratch this post season "Coach of the Year" award and rename it "Coaching Staff of the Year." And what about the savvy and support of the college's athletic director in Chuck Schnoor. The Central Arizona College athletic program is one to be revered and feared.

Seventeen players are leaving The Big House this year. Only five returned for 2017 so that can tell the work that is done in between seasons. These community college coaches have the toughest jobs in baseball, in that, million dollar players are not handed to them. And by the time these young 'uns develop fully, they're gone. And, you get two years with these players, if you're lucky.

The Cowboys coaching staff is in the middle of assessing their own performance right now and figuring out ways to improve for 2018. After a dynamic job that got them to the Western District finals and a game away from the NJCAA Championship Tournament, they'll tell you it wasn't enough.

We all know what "enough" is.

Their assessing is at lunch times in between recruiting.

Full steam ahead. Reload for 2018.

-Blade Contributing staff writer

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