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The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

Fight ‘Til the Final Pitch: City baseball falls one win short of state championship

City pitcher Carlos Melero-Salaiz hugs pitching coach Deskaheh Bomberry after a 7-5 loss to San Joaquin Delta in the State Championship final May 28 at John Euless Park. The Panthers were the state runners up for the 12th time in school history. | Photo by Dianne Rose | [email protected]

The City College baseball team held a 5-2 lead with just four innings left in the season, but one big inning from San Joaquin Delta was the difference that allowed the Mustangs to be victorious in the winner-take-all game of the California Community College Athletic Association State Championship final at John Euless Park in Fresno Monday.

Delta scored five runs on six hits in the bottom of the sixth inning, highlighted by a game-tying, bases-clearing double from the tournament’s Co-Most Valuable Player Jordan Vujovich. Jake Cruce’s double two batters later plated the go-ahead run for the Big 8 Conference rival Mustangs, who claimed their third state championship with a 7-5 win over the Panthers.

City played five games over the span of three days at Fresno City College as one of the final four teams remaining in the double-elimination California state tournament. The Panthers’ three wins in the tournament gave them a 36-16 record for 2018 and a state runner-up finish for the 12th time in program history.

“We’re going to have a great group of memories from this team,” said head coach Derek Sullivan, who made his first trip to the state tournament as City’s skipper. “These guys played like perfect Panthers, and baseball’s an imperfect game. We just came up a bit short.”

Sophomore pitcher Matt Ornelas threw 8 2/3 innings, striking out seven and allowing just three runs on five hits on less than 12-hours’ notice to give City a chance to play for the championship. | Photo by Dianne Rose | [email protected]

City won two of its first three games Saturday and Sunday to reach Monday’s championship final against Delta, the team that handed the Panthers their first back-to-back losses of the season Feb. 27–28 in Big 8 Conference play.

After exhausting all three regular starting pitchers in the first three games, City turned to sophomore Matt Ornelas, who hadn’t thrown in a game since April 26. Rotator cuff problems limited Ornelas’ pitching duties for most of the year. His only win of the season came in late February. Admittedly, Ornelas didn’t exactly know what his role was coming into the state championship weekend.

After learning he would be the starter for Monday morning’s state final at nearly midnight the night before, Ornelas delivered the finest outing of his City College career when his team needed him most.

The 5-foot-10, 140-pound lefty threw 8 2/3 inspiring innings in a must-win game against Delta Monday morning. He struck out seven Mustang hitters and gave up just three runs on five hits, forcing a winner-take-all game later Monday afternoon.

“(I wanted to finish that game) really bad,” said Ornelas. “Even though I was 135 pitches in, I still felt really good.”

After allowing a pair of baserunners with two outs in the ninth inning, Sullivan pulled Ornelas, who left to a standing ovation from the City fans.

“That’s when you know the culture is where it should be when you’ve got guys like (Ornelas) stepping up and throwing 8 2/3,” said City right fielder Jake Guenther.

City manufactured three runs over the first two innings, scoring on errors, groundouts and a wild pitch. Kevin Saenz plated two of his five RBIs in the tournament with a double off the third base bag in the third inning. Daniel Walsh followed with an RBI single, scoring Saenz, to give the Panthers a 6-1 lead.

Lucas Reid got the final out in the ninth, setting up the finale later Monday afternoon.

City first baseman Jake Guenther hit .333 over the Panthers’ five games of the state tournament. | Photo by Dianne Rose | [email protected]

“It was a fighting day,” said first baseman Jaylund Johnson, who contributed three doubles and five RBIs over the weekend. “It was pretty much win or go home.”

Ornelas started the final game of the 2017 season, where the Panthers were eliminated just one win shy of reaching the state final four. His rebound playoff start in 2018 is already being hailed as one of the greatest clutch pitching performances the City College baseball has ever seen, according to members of the coaching staff.
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City had contributions from both everyday starters as well as a number of role players during the five-game tournament. Catcher Brett Bello—the team’s No. 8 hitter in the lineup—led the team in batting (.444) during the state tourney and was the only Panther to hit safely in all five games.

Carlos Melero-Salaiz, whose six shutout innings against Sierra College May 20 put the Panthers in the State Tournament, kept the team afloat with five more strong innings in the State semifinal elimination game against Orange Coast Sunday night.

Isaiah Rodriguez’s three scoreless relief innings, which earned him the win against the Pirates, staved off the opposing lineup long enough to give his hitters a chance to score the go-ahead runs in Sunday night’s elimination game.

Outfielder Anthony Galati, who typically enters the game for late-inning defense, was 3-for-4 as a starter in the winner-take-all game against Delta.

Reid picked up a win and a save in his two appearances out of the bullpen, and Mitchell Miller, who also hadn’t pitched since late April, recorded four outs without allowing a run in the finale against Delta.

“We had a lot of key performances from guys who have just bought in, and we got a chance to play for all the marbles,” said Sullivan. “We train our guys to play every pitch without regard for what just happened or what might happen, and these guys did exactly that. It’s just a process; a way of going about it; a way of living life; of being present and giving your all to any set of circumstances. Those lessons will last for the rest of our lives.”

Guenther, who is headed to Texas Christian University to play Division I baseball next season, is one of the few three-year players who has been around for what Sullivan called the “rebirth of the Sac City culture.” The philosophy the team has kept consistent all season long is to play for the guy next to you, and always compete on the next pitch.

“I’ve never played baseball like this before,” said Guenther, who hit .333 with three RBIs in the tournament. “This is the most fun I’ve had with the greatest group of guys. We could’ve had 20 errors, and it wouldn’t matter because we’d still have each other’s back. Every single one of these guys showed me the right way to do it… If you really buy into what the guys that are in charge of this program are doing, it’s impossible not to have success at this level.”

City sophomore outfielder Creed Smith tries to hold back emotion after returning to the dugout in the ninth inning of the 7-5 state championship loss to San Joaquin Delta May 28 at John Euless Park in Fresno. Smith hit .364 with four walks and scored eight runs for the Panthers over the five games in the tournament. | Photo by Dianne Rose | [email protected]

The team’s sophomores exemplified the City philosophy of competing over the state tournament. Shortstop Joe McNamara hit .368 while driving in four runs. Centerfielder Creed Smith was at the top of seemingly every Panther rally, reaching base 12 times and scoring eight runs. Cleanup hitter Kody Gardner went 5 for 9 in Monday’s doubleheader. Danny Chavez’s six strikeouts over six innings placed City in the winner’s bracket after the first game. Ben Purcell struck out eight and left with a lead in the seventh inning of the semifinal against Delta, and closer Adam Erickson recorded two saves and allowed just one hit in his three tournament appearances.

“This place is special,” said Purcell. “It’s more than just baseball. It’s about carrying yourself off the field. It’s about being a good person, being the “Sac City guy” we talk about. We went through some struggles, but we turned it around. I think we set up the future for success. I had 100 innings, but I’m no more important than a redshirt. That’s how a successful program is run.”

This was City’s first trip to the state tournament since 2007. The Panthers have won five state championships overall in 17 title game appearances (a California record).

After the final defeat of the year, the entire City dugout took more than 30 minutes to empty. Each player and coach—some paralyzed in disbelief—shared heartfelt embraces, lamenting the sudden conclusion to a season that will not soon be forgotten by this group of Panthers.

“I was just glad to be out here with my brothers for the last time,” said Chavez. “I’ve gone to battle with all of them and loved every second. That was my goal this weekend: to love every second.”


For more info on SCC baseball, visit Visit for info/results on the CCCAA State Tournament.

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