With two clutch victories over Palomar College, the Jaguars baseball team kept its Pacific Coast Athletic Conference and postseason hopes alive by a whisker. At 20-8 (10-6 PCAC) and ranked 10th in Southern California, they are still in position to snag home-field advantage in the playoffs.Third place is not good enough for retiring coach Jerry Bartow, who said the team has room to improve.
“We just haven’t been able to put the bat on the ball at the right time,” he said. “If we ever decide when we’re going to hit, it might be alright if the pitching stays good.”
SWC has been hitting, they are 13th in the state with a .293 team batting average, but only 40 of their 276 hits have been for extra bases. 11 of those have come from centerfielder Chris Allen, who said that the team has yet to reach their potential.
“It’s either one or the other,” he said. “We’ve never played to our top, we’ve never pitched and hit at the same time. I can’t wait to see it because once we do it’s going to click. We’re going to run with it.”
SWC dropped the first two games against first place Palomar and needed to split the season series to stay in contention for the PCAC title.
After a 7-2 road victory, freshman Kevin Ginkel started on the mound in the series finale at the Jaguar Junction.
Ginkel set the tone in the first inning when he struck out Palomar’s third and fourth batters. Right fielder Roberto Lucero built off of the momentum with a leadoff walk and promptly stole second base. Lucero is fifth in the PCAC with 12 steals and has yet to be caught this season.
With one out and runners on second and third, second baseman Miguel Solano pulled a ground ball to the shortstop and was thrown out at first, but Lucero’s speed helped the Jaguars score the first run of the ballgame.
Designated hitter Francis Christy tried to start a Palomar rally in the second with aggressive baserunning, stretching a base hit single into a double on a lazy throw back to the infield. SWC catcher Albert Canedo, however, responded with a brazen play of his own.
Christy took a large secondary lead as Ginkel kicked up his leg. He threw a trademark fastball and without skipping a beat Canedo fired the ball behind the runner to shortstop Oscar Fitch. Christy could not get back in time as Fitch slapped the tag to kill the Comets’ momentum.
Canedo translated his aggressiveness to the batter’s box in the fifth inning. Leading 2-0 with the bases loaded, he drove a fastball to right field to knock in first baseman Roman Garcia and third baseman Frank Mello to make it 4-0 Jags.
Palomar could not score against Ginkel or his electric 90 mph fastball. In seven innings he recorded seven strikeouts and allowed just six hits.
“My fastball felt amazing today,” Ginkel said. “I was hitting the corners. I could hit it up and down. The umpire didn’t give me anything low, but that’s something you’ve got to work with.”
Deandre Simpson relieved Ginkel and gave up an unearned run in the eighth inning to make the score 4-1. Palomar tried to mount a comeback in the bottom of the ninth. With two outs, centerfielder Dillan Smith hit an RBI single to bring the Comets within two. Left fielder Matt Matlock stepped up to the plate as Simpson delivered a sidearm fastball. Matlock got underneath the pitch and looked relieved as the ball tailed across the left field foul line. Daniel Goodrich, however, was running full bore towards the fence and ended the game with a sliding catch in the shadows.
SWC’s pitching staff has been a large part of the team’s success. Its 2.96 ERA is second in the conference. The Jags, however, have given up 31 unearned runs in 28 games. Without a true power threat they need to play small ball to push runs across the plate.
Allen has been one of the team’s top performers. He has an outstanding .416/.516/.545 slash line, giving him the best batting average, top on-base percentage and second highest slugging percentage in the PCAC. He is also third in the conference with 14 steals and is one of the team’s vocal leaders.
“That’s what you have to look to do when you’re a sophomore,” he said. “Lead the way because we’ve got a young team, we’ve only got a few sophomore starters so you gotta pave the way and show them how to do it next year. You can’t leave them with nothing.”
A 4-3 extra-inning loss to Grossmont dropped the Jags back to third place, leaving them four games behind Palomar with just eight games remaining. As Bartow is quick to point out, however, Grossmont is only one game ahead of SWC in the standings.
“If we get in second place, we’re two out of three at home because we have a high ranking,” he said. “If we can win these other games. If we don’t then we get into third place – we might get into the playoffs, but then we’ve got to travel. I’d rather be in second. Well, I’d rather win it if something happened but I don’t think anyone else can beat Palomar.”
Allen said the team is determined to earn a spot in the playoffs in Bartow’s final season.
“This series right now against Grossmont is a pretty big one,” Allen said. “This is the grind right now to make it to playoffs. These last eight games are pretty much starting our playoffs.”