NORTHEAST GLENDALE — In hindsight, the entire Glendale Community College baseball team claimed it knew its season wasn't going to end Saturday, but it couldn't have been a closer call.
It looked like the Vaqueros' season was all but over, down two runs in the bottom of the ninth inning of the third game of a best-of-three series against Cypress College in the California Collegiate Athletic Assn. regional playoffs, when a leadoff home run, a critical error and a clutch walk-off hit delivered a 9-8 win that ensured Glendale would advance to the Super Regional Tournament beginning May 13.
"I knew from the beginning that we're too good for our season to be over. We've worked way too hard for us to be done here," said Vaqueros left fielder Chris Stroh, whose two-out double drove in shortstop Josh Canales for the winning run.
Sako Chapjian gave Glendale hope, leading off the final inning with a home run to left field — cutting the deficit to one. Cypress pitcher Jared Wilson gave up another hit, a single to Sean Spear, before settling down and retiring the next two batters. Then the life was sucked out of Stengel Field when Canales hit a routine ground ball to Chargers shortstop Max Price.
A wave of emotions went through Stroh as he watched the play from the on-deck circle. For a second, he thought the season was over, but then Glendale was given new life when Price fired an errant throw to first base that sailed to the back of the fence and brought Spear in to score, tying the game at 8.
Stroh, Glendale's No. 9 hitter, made good on the second chance, delivering a line-drive, walk-off hit down the right-field line all the way to the fence that scored Canales easily to give Glendale a 9-8 victory.
"Stroh has been extremely important to our offense and he's kind of struggled this year," Glendale Coach Chris Cicuto said. "He battled through a slump, though, and that's huge."
The win capped off an emotional two days for the Vaqueros. They began short series against Cypress with a 7-1 loss on Friday afternoon, but rebounded in the second game Saturday morning for a 9-4 win. Glendale rode that wave to victory in the deciding game, which ended the Chargers' season.
Chapjian put Glendale on his back in the first game, blasting two three-run homers and picking up an offense that had been struggling. He finished the day with six hits, three home runs and eight runs batted in (two in the final game) after going hitless in four plate appearances the day before.
"Sako was unbelievable today and going into the playoffs we knew he would have to do his work," Cicuto said.
Chapjian's first homer of the day came with the game tied at 1 in the top of the sixth inning and gave Glendale a 4-1 lead. His second blast came in the top of ninth inning and gave his team an insurmountable 9-4 lead.
"These types of games are unbelievable," he said. "You don't expect to have a game like this, you don't try to have a game like this, it just happens."
The final game of the day was back and forth and neither team got out to more than a three-run lead. Glendale scratched out the first run of the day in the bottom of the first, which the Chargers promptly answered with a run of their own in the top of the second. Both teams continued that theme the rest of the way, as Cypress began inching out to small leads only to have them chipped away by a resilient Glendale offense.
"Obviously it was an emotional game but we were trying to stay away from the emotions, unlike yesterday's game," Cicuto said. "Yesterday, we came out so excited and rode the rollercoaster. …The guys didn't get too high or too low today and that's a huge part of baseball — keeping your emotions in check and not losing focus."
Dylan Fitzgerald carried Cypress' offense in the last game of the day, going five for five with three RBIs. No single player took over for Glendale Saturday afternoon though, as seven different players (Spear, Chapjian, Stroh, Canales, Ellis Whitman, Erik Suarez and Michael Sherwin) — drove in runs for the team.
"I think they learned their lesson from yesterday and that's what it come downs to," Cicuto said. "You have to look in the face of adversity and say, 'Let's go out and do the best that we can.'"