After walking Vaqueros’ first baseman Casey Slattery and moving runners to first and second base, El Camino Warriors coach Nate Fernley went to the bullpen to relieve starting pitcher Aaron Orozco in the bottom of the seventh inning.
El Camino was the designated visiting team and Glendale was the home team at Warrior Field for their Game 2 Southern Sectional meeting. With the game knotted up at three a piece, Fernley called Julian Diaz from the bullpen to help the Warriors escape their seventh inning jam.
Diaz was called upon in a similar situation in Game 2 of the Warriors’ previous series against the Cypress Chargers late and with the game tied. Diaz pitched two innings, allowed two runs and was tagged with the loss.
“Julian never does let the moment get to him. He rises to the moment,” Fernley said. “We have a lot of confidence because he loves to be in those situations.”
This game, Diaz would allow a hit to load the bases on his first pitch to Vaqueros catcher Michael Choi. Hayden Luff then stepped to the plate, bases loaded and one out, with an opportunity late to give the Vaqueros their first lead of the series.
Diaz would get a groundball to Warriors shortstop Taishi Nakawake, who stepped on second base and fired a dart to first basemen Spencer Palmer for a double play. The Warriors escaped the jam with the game still tied.
“I was just trying to get a ground ball and induce a double play,” Diaz said. “[After seeing the groundball go into Nakawake’s glove] I was full of excitement just to get that double play and keep the score tied.”
Warriors second baseman Spencer Long led off the top of the eighth inning with a dribbler back to Vaqueros’ pitcher Reece Matheisen. Matheisen could not field it cleanly and was given an error after Long safely reached first base.
Long would steal second base and after a Ty Conrad strikeout, he later advanced to third base on a wild pitch.
Orozco hit a shallow fly ball to Vaqueros center fielder Tom Tabak, and Long tagged third and began to run home.
“I was just trying to put the bat on the ball and just trying to get the job done,” Orozco said.
Tabak’s throw was strong, but Long was safe at home after Vaqueros catcher Choi dropped the ball. The Warriors led 4-3 going to the bottom of the eighth inning.
“Honestly, I didn’t think [the fly ball] was deep enough at first, but once I [saw] Long getting ready to go home I was like ‘we may have a chance,'” Orozco said.
Long, who is also El Camino’s closer, came in to pitch as Diaz was moved to second base. Long tossed a scoreless eighth inning, striking out two.
“When we get the lead in eighth and ninth inning, that’s where we go to Long and he’s been great all year long for us. And nothing different today,” Fernley said.
The Warriors added three insurance runs in the top of the ninth inning, including a home run from right fielder Jerry Granillo with Nakawake on base. Center fielder Joseph Borges scored later in the inning off an error from Glendale’s third basemen Hans Seo.
Long struck the first two hitters out in the bottom of the ninth inning but allowed a hit, hit-by-pitch and walk to load the bases. Glendale’s Hayden Luff would step to the plate again with the bases loaded and an opportunity to help his team.
Long struck out Luff to end the game, punching the Warriors ticket to Fresno and the final four.
The Orange Coast Pirates, San Joaquin Delta Mustangs and Ohlone Renegades make up the remaining final four teams that will make the trip to Fresno. The final leg of the 2019 California Community College Athletic Association baseball playoffs begins Saturday, May 25.
“I think I’ll look back and appreciate [it], right now you’re still in the journey mode,” Fernley said. “I think I’ll look back and think this is one of the greatest seasons ever to be a part of and just a special group.”