WHITTIER — The Glendale Community College baseball fans just had a feeling a win was on its way, rising to their feet and clapping before every pitch, as the Vaqueros entered the bottom of the ninth inning down a run against top-seeded Rio Hondo on the road.
Erik Suarez had a feeling too, standing at the plate with a runner on first, two outs and facing a 2-2 count. That feeling manifested itself as he turned on a hanging slider and sent it over the left-field fence for a two-run, walk-off home run that delivered a 7-6 win.
The victory puts Glendale, which played as the home team Saturday, in today’s championship game of the California Community College Athletic Assn. Southern California Super Regional, which is hosted by Rio Hondo College. GCC will play Southwestern College, which eliminated Rio Hondo later Saturday, at 11 a.m. in the double-elimination tournament. Should the Vaqueros lose, they would play 30 minutes thereafter in a deciding game.
The home run proved prophetic because before Suarez’s at-bat he told his coach, Chris Cicuto, he was going to send Rio Hondo closer Andrew Melchor’s slider over the fence if he threw it to him.
“The first two pitches I took were sliders and I knew he was going to come back with it because he couldn’t overpower me with his fastball,” said Suarez, adding that he “just had a feeling” the entire at-bat and smiled after every pitch because he “knew it was coming.”
However, Glendale’s second walk-off win in a week span almost never happened. Cicuto wanted to take Suarez out of the game in the first inning after he was hit by a pitch on his already fractured left hand.
“It hurt so bad, I actually teared up a little bit it hurt so bad,” Suarez said. “I went down to first base and I was like, ‘Forget that, I’m staying in this game. This is too big of a game to be taken out in the first inning.’”
Suarez’s bomb cashed in Ellis Whitman, who reached on a fielder’s choice ground ball.
“[Suarez] shows so much character in everything he does and he would not allow us to take him out,” Cicuto said. “When a kid gives his heart and soul and you trust him, you’re going to let him go play and do the best he possibly can. When you’re that tough, good things are going to happen for you.”
It was Suarez’ first home run of the season and his first hit of the game, but it came at the perfect time.
“He doesn’t even show that [power] in batting practice,” said Cicuto, whose team had lost to Rio Hondo three times during the regular season. “The guys give him a lot of crap about that kind of stuff.”
Last week’s hero, Chris Stroh, started off the bottom of the ninth inning with a walk and went on to steal second. Melchor struck out Ryan Daniels before Whitman hit a hard grounder to shortstop. Stroh, who had a walk-off hit against Cypress in the deciding game of the previous week’s regionals, broke for third base as the ball came off Whitman’s bat and was just tagged out at third on a bang-bang play.
The Vaqueros got off to a good start in the game, scoring three runs in the first inning. Daniels led off the bottom of the first with a double. Whitman followed it up with a single before Suarez got hit to load the bases. Sako Chapjian drove in the first run of the game with a fielder’s choice groundout. A batter later, a John Schwer double cashed in two more runs to give Glendale a 3-0 lead.
Ryan Sherriff started strong for Glendale on the mound, facing the minimum nine batters through the first three innings. Rio Hondo’s offense came alive on in the fourth after a lead-off bunt single from Greg Hamrock. He was moved to second on a sacrifice bunt and cashed in on a RBI single from Andrew Mistone, who quickly came around to score on a single from Thomas Jenson.
The Roadrunners’ big blow of the game came off of Tim Smoley’s bat. Sherriff left a pitch high and inside and Smoley sent it over the right-field fence, a three-run shot that gave Rio Hondo a 5-3 lead.
“It was a 3-2 changeup, which is one of his best pitches, and he just didn’t finish it,” Cicuto said. “He left it up and [Smoley] did a great job hitting it out of the park.”
Christian Ibarra delivered another homer for the Roadrunners in the fifth off of GCC reliever Gustavo Garcia. It was the only run the Vaqueros bullpen would allow the rest of the way though, as three pitchers combined to give up just four hits and one run in the final five innings.
Glendale’s offense began clawing its way back in the game with a two-run bottom of the seventh. Schwer led off the frame with a walk and Myles Neimeyer followed it up with a perfectly executed hit-and-run single, sending a line drive between the hole at first and second, which put runners on first and third. Josh Canales brought Schwer in on a fielder’s choice before Whitman banged a run-scoring single up the middle to trim the deficit to 6-5.
“We’re destined — this is destiny,” Suarez said. “We should have been out of this tournament last week, easily.”