Ed Petruska-Contributing Writer-Pinal Central
SIGNAL PEAK — A brilliant pitching performance by Lucas Knowles and a timely small-ball rally carried the Central Arizona College baseball team to a 3-0 victory over South Mountain on Tuesday.
Knowles registered a season-best 12 strikeouts without issuing a walk in going eight innings to match his longest outing of the season. The sophomore left-hander came into the game leading the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference in ERA (0.61) and strikeouts (56 in 44 innings pitched).
"That's what we expect,'' CAC pitching coach Jerry A'Hearn said. "Not because it's easy but because he works his butt off and is one of the most competitive guys I've ever seen."
The Vaqueros (23-9, 10-5 ACCAC) did all of their scoring in the seventh inning, and only one ball was hit out of the infield. Central loaded the bases with nobody out on an infield single by Jake Meyer, a botched sacrifice bunt and Matt Aribal's bunt single. Josh Dudden walked to give CAC a 1-0 lead, the second run came home on a fielder's choice grounder by Ernny Ordonez and Hunter Jump's sacrifice fly made it 3-0.
Knowles retired the last three batters he faced after the leadoff man in the South Mountain eighth reached on a strikeout wild pitch. He limited the Cougars to four hits. Dakota Donovan pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for his third save.
"Dakota's been awesome," A'Hearn said. "He comes in and throws strikes."
South Mountain, ranked No. 11 in the NJCAA Division I poll, had won its previous 16 games. The Cougars (25-7, 12-2 ACCAC) stranded six baserunners, including four in scoring position.
Knowles was at his best in the fifth after Ricky Munoz led off with a double and Blake Covin followed with a bunt single. With runners at second and third following a wild pitch, Knowles struck out the next two batters and got the final out on a difficult comebacker.
"That's Lucas in a nutshell," A'Hearn said. "He doesn't care who he's facing. You're going to get the best out of him every single time."
Knowles retired the side in order in the first, fourth and sixth innings. He threw 102 pitches.
The Vaqueros have won seven straight. They collected eight of their nine hits — none of which went for extra bases — off South Mountain right-hander Drew Hill, who struck out seven and walked two in seven-plus innings.
Zach Hogueisson went 3 for 3 with a walk and was the lone CAC player with multiple hits.
The Vaqueros left runners at second and third in the first inning and stranded two more runners in scoring position before finally breaking through against Hill. Two of those seventh-inning runs were unearned.
Knowles performance was the second straight gem for a CAC starter. Sophomore right-hander Jason Nelson pitched a nine-inning no-hitter against Dawson, Montana, on Friday. Nelson struck out 17 and walked two in the 6-0 victory.
Central has won three consecutive games by shutout. The Vaqueros have allowed just 10 runs in their last 11, going 9-2 during that stretch.
"Those guys make sure they're ready to play," A'Hearn said of his pitching staff. "They're very hard-working (on and off the field). It's good to see them throwing strikes. If you limit the walks, you're going to limit the runs. Hopefully we can keep it rolling."