Santa Ana opened the 3C2A Super Regional playoffs with a bang.
The Dons surged ahead in a 16-8 victory over Santa Barbara City with a non-stop offensive effort from the entire Dons lineup.
The Santa Barbara starter struggled with his command early on. He walked lead off hitter Christian Thompson to begin the game. Thompson then took second off a wild pitch. Then an Eddie Pelc groundout sent him to third.
Thompson would race home on a wild pitch and score the Dons’ first run of the game before a ball had even left the infield.
Once the excitement from Thomspon’s baserunning died down, catcher Mario Tostado ramped it right back up.
He roped a ball high down the left field line and over the fence for a solo home run to put Santa Ana up 2-0.
Tostado was adorned with a new accessory by his teammates when he returned to the dugout.
“One of the guys cut off the brim of a hat, so we’re starting to put that on guys who hit home runs. It’s kind of our rally cap right now,” said Tostado.
Following a walk to Troy Kent, the Vaquero starting pitcher was removed from the game.
Santa Barabara’s new pitcher didn’t fare much better than their first.
He hit the first batter he faced to put runners at first and second. Mikey Rocha came up to bat and rocketed a ball just fair down the left field line.
Rocha’s drive cleared the bases to score two runs and Rocha found himself on third base after an error by the Santa Barbara infield.
The Dons celebrated an early five run lead in the bottom of the first inning after Marc Schavone singled through the right side of the infield to bring home Rocha.
“I feel good at the plate… It feels good to have a couple good games. I’m gonna keep it rolling on tomorrow,” said Schavone.
Freshman Hauze Fragoso had the start for Santa Ana. He struck out the first batter he faced on a sharp curveball.
The next batter clobbered a long home run over the left field fence to score the first Vaqueros run of the game.
The following Vaquero batter slammed a hard fly ball to deep right field that rang off the top of the green nylon fence. He had broken into his home run trot when the ball rocketed off his bat, resulting in a measly single. Fragoso retired the next two batters and stranded the runner.
Santa Barbara was on the board, 5-1.
The Dons offense proved powerful again in the second. Rocha stepped up to the plate with two outs and the bases loaded.
The freshman infielder delivered. Rocha struck a hard ground ball straight through the middle of the infield. Two runs came in to score as the Dons piled on, making it 7-1.
Schavone singled into right field, which scored another run and advanced Rocha to third.
The hits did not stop for the Dons. Jimmy DeAnda shot a single past the Vaquero shortstop, scoring Rocha.
Santa Ana found all manners of ways to score in the first two innings, scoring nine runs on eight hits through the first two. Eight of the Don’s starting nine batters had reached base by the second. However, only two of their first eight hits went for extra bases.
Fragoso walked the lead-off batter in the top of the fourth. He then gave up another towering drive, this time to left field, that bounced off the fence for a double.
Tostado and manager Tom Nilles visited Fragoso on the mound following the long Vaquero double.
“We got a big lead and I think I got a little complacent so I started to lose my touch going into the fourth,” said Fragoso. “I’ll make sure not to let it happen next time… [If I] attack the zone earlier in counts I think I’ll be fine. I trust my stuff and I’ll come back stronger.”
Fragoso walked the next batter to load the bases. There were still no outs in the inning.
The next Vaquero to come up to bat would rope a high single down the right field line. Two runs came in to score and cut the lead to 9-3.
Fragoso was relieved by sophomore right handed pitcher Brady Ashworth. He ended the day with four hits, three earned runs, and four walks in three innings pitched.
Fragoso wasn’t hit often in the game, but he was hit hard when it did happen. Of the four knocks allowed by Fragoso, three hit off the outfield fence while one went over the fence for a homerun.
“I think I just wasn’t executing my pitches properly,” said Fragoso. “Leaving a lot of the pitches down the middle… easy place for them to hit.
The first batter Ashworth faced poked a single just under the glove of the diving Dons shortstop Rocha. Another Vaquero came in to score from third and cut the lead down to 9-4 Dons.
Ashworth allowed two more singles and another Santa Barbara runner to cross home plate.
Thompson made an outstanding diving play for the second out of the inning. With the bases loaded, a bloop hit was diving fast toward the shallow right field grass. Thompson dove faster, snagging the fly ball as he left his feet and his hat left his head. The stellar grab saved at least one run.
Ashworth then shut the door on the tumultuous top of the fourth with a strikeout. Santa Barbara scored four runs total in the inning.
Santa Ana answered in the bottom of the fourth. Michael Dobson stepped up with the bases loaded and one out.
Dobson hit a routine ground ball to third. It should have been an easy out at home, possibly an inning-ending double play, but the Vaquero third baseman’s throw skipped away from the catcher. Two runs came in to score on the E5 while the remaining runners advanced to second and third.
A sacrifice fly by Thompson scored the runner from third and put the Dons back into a comfortable position up 12-5.
“It was just a fight, man. Those guys never went away,” said Tostado. “Normally teams, you put nine runs on them in two innings and they go away. These guys never did, they battled back… it was a great game throughout”
Ashworth struggled with command early in the fifth. He hit one batter with a pitch and walked another to put runners on first and second with one out. The following batter would put yet another ground ball just past the grasp of the diving Rocha at shortstop. The runner scored, making it 12-6.
Ashworth left a curveball hanging in the zone that was struck sharply into left field to drive in another run and cut the lead to 12-7.
Santa Barbara would not go down quietly. Ashworth would be taken out of the game after another RBI single made the game 12-8.
The contest was an offensive onslaught by both teams. One or both teams scored at least four runs in an inning four times in the game.
Freshman right hander David Celoski relieved Ashworth with runners at first and second and one out. Celoski walked the first batter he faced to load the bases.
Celoski put the next two batters down in order. The bases were left loaded to end the inning.
Celoski took over in the late innings. The hard throwing freshman struck out three of the first six batters he faced.
“I just came in pounding the fastball and it turned out great,” said Celoski. “The change-up was good today as well. Got me two huge outs; but the fastball was definitely the star of the show.”
With two outs in the bottom of the seventh, the Dons loaded the bases for the second time in the game after a pair of singles and a walk. Rocha was the first Santa Ana batter to face the new Vaquero pitcher and was looking to add on.
Rocha chopped a ball down the left field line. The ball was fielded cleanly by a sliding third baseman, but the play pulled him away from the bag. Base runner Troy Kent charged down the baseline and seemingly beat the fielder to third base.
Kent was called safe initially by the third base umpire , but the call was overturned after a meeting between all three officials. The inning ended on the reversed call.
Schavone was hit by a pitch to open the bottom of the eighth inning. Jimmy DeAnda followed and walked to bring up Dobson.
Dobson would triple down the line, scoring two runs. Thompson came up to bat and skied a sacrifice fly to allow Dobson to tag up and score the Dons 15th run of the game.
Eddie Pelc came up to bat and made a statement. He slugged a ball high into the May sky.
The Vaquero right fielder could do nothing but watch as the ball disappeared over the fence for a home run. Pelc charged toward the dugout after touching home plate to bump elbows with his teammates and wear the team’s new home run hat.
The solo shot was the Dons’ sixteenth run, the most they’d scored in a game since Saturday, March 11, 2023, against Orange Coast College.
“[Our offense] has been really good all year,” said Schavone. “If we just ride on the momentum that we have right now, I don’t think anyone can really hang with us offensively.”
Tostado came in to close the game on the pitcher’s mound. His vacant catching position had been filled by Sophomore Sebastian McSherry to free up Tostado to take the bump.
Tostado forced a fly out from the first batter he faced. After a walk put a runner on first, Tostado forced a ground ball double play to end the game and secure the victory for the Dons.
This victory moves the Dons forward to the 3C2A Super Regionals. Their next opponent is Cypress College.
The Dons crushed Cypress in game one of the series on Friday, May 12, by a final of 12-5. They next play game two of the series on Saturday, May 13, at 11:00 a.m. If they lose, they will then have game three about 45 minutes after the conclusion of game two.
“The group’s confident. Everything’s just going our way right now. We’re playing good baseball,” said Tostado.