Ed Petruska-Pinal Central
SIGNAL PEAK — By sweeping a key doubleheader on Thursday, the Central Arizona College softball team made steady progress toward clinching a berth in the Division I Region 1 tournament.
The 9-8 and 5-1 wins over Eastern Arizona gave the Vaqueras a six-game cushion in the loss column over the Gila Monsters in the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference. Central is third among the five D-I teams with 20 conference games remaining.
"We're in a good position," CAC coach Shelby Davis said. "Our goal is to win the conference. But if that doesn't happen, I think we have a group that can win the regional tournament. It's all about getting better every day."
The Vaqueras (27-10, 20-8 ACCAC) avoided disaster in Thursday's opener. Trailing 6-2, the Gila Monsters (19-20, 15-14) scored six runs in the top of the sixth inning to go up 8-6 before Central answered with three in the bottom of the frame.
CAC did all of its Game 2 scoring in the first inning. Eastern's lone run off Trinity Valentine was unearned.
"Whatever we had to do today, our goal was to get a sweep," Davis said. "Those were two big ones for us."
The sweep was the second for the Vaqueras against a D-I opponent and their seventh overall in ACCAC play. They are 5-3 against the D-I teams after the first go-round but will need to make up considerable ground to challenge Arizona Western (23-3 ACCAC) or Yavapai (22-4) for the top seed in the four-team region tourney.
Central Arizona vs. Eastern Arizona 3/28/19
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The Gila Monsters countered with a two-run, two-out double in the fifth off CAC pitcher Baylee Eaton. The Vaqueras got those runs back when Madison Besaw delivered a two-run triple with two outs in the bottom of the inning.
Eastern sent 10 batters to the plate in the sixth — which began with the last of CAC's three errors — and scored all of its runs (five were earned) with one out. The Gila Monsters had four hits, including a three-run triple by Alyssa Salud-Mendoza, a game-tying RBI double by Hope Casarez and Lauren Dolynski's go-ahead two-run double.
The inning ended with Eaton catching a popup and a liner to strand runners at first and second.
"She needs to attack hitters when she has the lead," Davis said. "I was thinking about pulling her, but she recovered and that was good to see."
The Vaqueras regained the lead with the help of two EAC errors in the bottom of the sixth. Ariday Lopez singled to drive in two runs before an RBI groundout by Ewell put CAC up 9-8.
Thomas, Lopez and Besaw each had two of Central's nine hits. The Gila Monsters also had nine hits, getting three from Dolynski.
Central sent 10 batters to the plate in the first inning of Game 2. Eastern starter Faith Orton walked the first two, then gave up Evelyn Roman's one-out RBI single, a two-run single by Danielle Farinas and Besaw's RBI single. The other run scored on one of Eastern's two errors in the inning.
The Vaqueras went scoreless in their final five at-bats despite collecting seven hits off EAC reliever Sabyn Martinez.
"We need to do a better job of keeping the pressure on," Davis said.
Valentine allowed nine hits, three by Kaila Burnett. She struck out six and walked one.
Lopez, Roman and Farinas each had two of Central's 10 hits.