Originally Published: May 14, 2010 11:56 p.m.
PRESCOTT - On a cool spring afternoon at the friendly confines of Roughrider Park on Friday, the Yavapai College baseball team could almost reach out and touch a NJCAA Region I, Division I crown.
But, once again, there stood nemesis Central Arizona College to dash those hopes for at least another day.
Despite building a six-run lead through five innings, Yavapai College's typically reliable bullpen faltered late in a 15-11 extra-innings loss to the Vaqueros in the second game of the region finals.
Central tied the best-of-three series at 1-1 as the teams brace for the third and decisive game at noon today to determine who captures the Region I championship. YC won the opening contest 11-7 on Thursday and could have wrapped up the title with a victory Friday.
"We knew we were going to have to play our butts off because Yavapai's a good club," Vaqueros coach Jon Wente said afterward. "Our guys kept fighting."
If the Roughriders (42-19 overall) lose this afternoon, it will mark the third consecutive season that they have succumbed to the Vaqueros (42-18) in the region finals on their own field.
Yavapai College has won three straight Arizona Community College Athletic Association regular season titles, but it has not qualified for the JUCO World Series since 2006 when the club finished as the national runner-up.
If YC wins today, the Roughriders will move on to the NJCAA's Western District Championship round next Thursday through Sunday as the Region I representative at the Region IX champion's site.
"I have no doubt in my mind that we won't come away with it (the region title)," Yavapai sophomore third baseman Cam Schiller said. "We have every reason to think we will be able to take it. There's nothing I want more right now than to come away with this championship."
On Friday, the Roughriders built a hefty 9-3 lead in the fifth inning after falling behind 3-2. They plated seven runs in a monster fifth on the strength of three deep home runs, including Schiller's two-run bomb to right centerfield that handed YC its first edge of the contest, 4-3.
First baseman Cam Brown immediately followed Schiller with a solo shot to right. Six batters later, with two outs, leadoff hitter DeMarcus Tidwell deposited another 2-run blast that bounded off the large, block-worded "YAVAPAI" sign in right.
Yet despite those offensive fireworks, Central kept chipping away at the Roughriders' lead and scored 10 runs in the last three innings alone to snatch the victory.
Vaqueros Nick Carrillo and Chris Burk both hit solo homers in the sixth off YC starter Tyler Bremer that made it 9-5 before the wheels came off two frames later.
Overall, Bremer had a decent game, but he began to look shaky in the eighth as Central loaded the bases with one out.
"Tyler pitched great and he deserved a win," YC coach Sky Smeltzer said.
Added Bremer, "I'm happy that Sky kept trusting me to go out there. I have the utmost confidence in myself and the utmost confidence in our bullpen. I have no regrets with what happened today."
Smeltzer subsequently pulled Bremer in favor of stingy side-armed closer Pulama Silva.
But Silva, a JUCO All-American who entered the game with a miniscule 0.939 ERA in 38-1/3 innings pitched and an ACCAC-high 15 saves, clearly struggled. In the eighth, he issued consecutive run-scoring walks before giving up a two-run single to Nick Carrillo that knotted the contest at 9-9.
"He got caught up in the emotions of the game, he didn't compete, and he got mad at the umpire (about balls and strikes) - and those are all things that can't happen," Smeltzer said of Silva. "He needs to control what he can control, and that's himself."
Central reliever Gabriel Gutierrez retired the Yavapai side in the bottom of the eighth, which opened the door for the Vaqueros to re-claim the lead in the ninth.
With two outs and runners on first and second, Central's A.J. Schugel blistered a two-run double to the gap in left off Silva to put the Vaqueros back in front 11-9.
"I don't know if we figured him (Silva) out," Wente said. "We've seen him a lot. He could come back (Saturday) and be great. He's always going to compete and give them a chance."
However, just when it appeared that the Roughriders were through, pinch hitter James Dykstra chased Gutierrez from the game in the bottom of the ninth with an RBI double. YC later tied it up at 11-11 when Dykstra scored on a wild pitch from Carrillo, who switched from catcher to pitcher.
Nonetheless, Central rolled with the punches and had its way with Yavapai pitcher Casey Upperman, a regular starter who came on in relief of Silva. The Vaqueros went on to regain the lead on a pair of sacrifices, including an errant throw from first to home on one of those sacrifices with the bases loaded.
With the Vaqueros in front 14-11 with two outs, Schugel returned to the plate and lined an RBI single to center on a 0-2 pitch that would ice the victory.
Carrillo remained on the mound in the 10th and faced only four batters, striking out shortstop Ty Forney and Brown at the top of the order to conclude matters.
"We will come out and get after it Saturday like today (Friday) never happened," Brown said. "We refuse to lose."
In today's game, Smeltzer said he still plans to send Alex Miranda (7-2 record, 3.01 ERA) to the hill, where he will most likely face Central lefty Jordan Lewis (2-2, 3.95).
The Vaqueros used five pitchers to stay alive on Friday. And in Game 2 alone, the Roughriders issued 12 walks and hit three batters, which significantly aided Central's cause.
"If you told me that we could come up here two times in a row and win (the region), that doesn't happen," Wente said. "And to give ourselves an opportunity to do it again doesn't happen a whole lot either."