Former VG star Wheeler hits walk-off HR to send CAC to nationals
The region tourney in Prescott came to a dramatic conclusion Saturday when freshman catcher Danielle Wheeler, a former Vista Grande High School standout, drilled a solo home run with one out in the bottom of the seventh inning to give the Vaqueras a 9-8 victory over Eastern Arizona.
Second-seeded CAC (50-9) advanced to the title round by overcoming 4-3 and 6-4 deficits to defeat the third-seeded Gila Monsters 7-6 in eight innings on Friday. Jessenia Miranda's solo homer in the bottom of the seventh tied it 4-4. Miranda ended the game with an RBI single in the eighth after the Vaqueras tied it on Lindsey Smith's sacrifice fly and a run-scoring single by Wheeler.
Central, ranked No. 10 in the NJCAA poll, began the tournament with Friday's 5-2 win over fourth-seeded Pima.
Top-seeded Yavapai, ranked No. 5 nationally, was eliminated with two losses to Eastern.
The last time CAC competed in the NJCAA Tournament was 2005, when the Vaqueras captured their 12th national championship. Second-year CAC coach Shelby Davis was the starting catcher for the Vaqueras, who won three elimination games on the final day.
That tournament in Clermont, Florida, ended with CAC defeating Indian River, Florida, 5-4 on a walk-off home run by Antoinette Estrella with two outs in the bottom of the eighth.
"Winning the nationals was one of the greatest accomplishments of my lifetime," Davis said. "To help these girls get there is really special. They've worked hard all year, and they should be proud of themselves. They came into the season with a common goal and never deviated."
Merely qualifying for the national tourney, which is May 17-20 in St. George, Utah, is not the end goal for the Vaqueras, Davis said.
"The girls are familiar with our program's history, and they're going there to win it," she said.
Central scored four runs in the fifth inning of their region tourney opener. Kyrstan Garcia lost her shutout bid in the seventh when Pima scored both of its runs.
Ashleigh Withers had three RBIs in Friday's win over Eastern. Coming from behind twice "built a lot of confidence," Davis said. "That was a huge moment for the girls."
Davis said she definitely did not want to play a third game against Eastern.
"I didn't want us to be in the 'if' game," she said. "That's scary. We did everything possible to avoid the situation. We didn't want to give (Eastern) any momentum. We left everything on the table."
Central led 6-2 after three innings and 8-7 going into the top of the seventh before the Gila Monsters tied it with a home run.
Felecia Medina had three hits and three RBIs for CAC. Driving in one run apiece were Moeller, Smith, Soto and Garcia.
Wheeler's game-winning home run came on her lone plate appearance of the game. She had not homered this year in her previous 58 at-bats.
Miranda's homer was her third of the season.
The Vaqueras finished with nine hits in each of their first two games and 13 in the tournament finale.
"Everyone in the order contributed in different ways, which was huge," Davis said. "That's what we have to have at nationals."