SIGNAL PEAK — Having scored just one run in its previous 26 innings against Cochise, the Central Arizona College baseball team was in dire need of an offensive spark in Game 2 of Saturday's doubleheader at CAC Field.
Cody Farrell delivered, smacking a three-run homer with two outs in the bottom of the fifth inning to give the Vaqueros a 3-2 lead. Two more huge hits followed in the sixth after the Apaches went up 4-3 — a tying home run by Colby Hamilton and Nashea Diggs' two-run double.
Central went on to claim a 7-4 win in its regular-season finale after falling 2-0 in the seven-inning opener. The Vaqueros' first win over Cochise this season secured a tie for the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference championship with Division II Mesa, the fourth year in a row CAC has won or shared the ACCAC title.
The 10th-ranked Vaqueros (42-14, 27-11) will host Cochise in a best-of-three Region 1 playoff series that begins Thursday, so finally beating the Apaches, who prevailed 9-1 and 10-0 on Feb. 18 in Douglas, had extra meaning.
"It was a game we needed to win for confidence's sake," CAC coach Jon Wente said. "It's going to be a battle. Hopefully we learned that we have to play well to win, that we can't just show up."
Having to overcome 2-0 and 4-3 deficits to earn the Game 2 victory added to its significance.
"To kind of grind it out after we couldn't get anything going" was a good sign, Wente said. "We kept grinding and fighting. We put some at-bats together, some balls in play and scored some runs."
Farrell's team-leading seventh home run, off an 0-1 pitch from Cochise starter Kade Wagner, ended a 25-inning scoreless drought against the Apaches. Brad Holland led off the sixth with a double and Tim Hergert singled with two outs to set the stage.
Cochise (32-24, 19-19) regained the lead in the sixth on Austin Nelson's two-out, two-run single off Sean Maxon — the fourth of CAC's five pitchers.
Hamilton led off the Central sixth with his second home run of the season on Wagner's 1-2 offering. Dillon Bigcrane followed with an infield single, and a sacrifice bunt by Aldo Koutsoyanopulos was misplayed for a two-base error that put runners at second and third.
Diggs, the No. 9 hitter, greeted reliever David Estrada with a go-ahead double to right. Diggs scored on an error during a bizarre sequence that began with MJ Hubbs reaching on a third-strike passed ball and being thrown out at the plate.
The lone hit for the Vaqueros through the first four innings was a one-out single by Farrell in the first.
Wagner, a 6-foot-2 left-hander, struck out 13 and walked four before departing with one out in the sixth.
Central's pitchers combined for seven walks and three hit batters while allowing seven hits. The Apaches stranded 12 baserunners, leaving the bases loaded in the fifth inning and two aboard in the first, second and eighth. Cochise also stranded a runner at second in the fourth.
CAC starter Jared Koening held the Apaches scoreless for the first three innings, allowing three hits while striking out five and walking two.
Maxon, who went 21⁄3 innings, got the win to raise his record to 1-2. Junior Zepeda retired the Apaches in order in the ninth to register his 12th save.
Farrell and Bigcrane both had two of Central's eight hits. Nelson and DeSoto had two hits apiece for Cochise.
The Apaches clinched the fourth and final Division I playoff berth in the opener. Xavier Altamirano pitched a three-hitter, giving up singles to David Petrino in the first, Hergert in the second and Koutsoyanopulos in the fifth.
Altamirano struck out eight, walked two and hit one.