“It was over the plate, I just saw it well, and I hit it well.”
That’s what ecstatic College of the Canyons freshman third baseman Calvin Estrada said moments after hitting a clutch two-run walk-off home run on Thursday that lifted the Cougars over visiting Glendale College by a 10-8 score, and gave COC at least a share of its first conference title since 2009.
“I was just trying to not make the last out, trying to give the bat to my teammate, pass it on,” said Estrada. “I was just nice and easy, a nice easy swing.”
Estrada’s late game heroics provided a fitting end to a tense game that featured five lead changes, with two of the top-ranked teams in the state duking it out for the right to be called the Western State Conference, East Division champions.
With back-to-back wins on Tuesday and Thursday Canyons (27-11, 16-2) has moved a game and a half ahead of the Vaqueros (31-7-1, 15-3-1) heading into Friday’s regular season finale in Glendale.
A win by the Cougars on Friday would give COC sole possession of the conference championship. A victory by the Vaqueros would force Glendale to then complete its marathon 14-inning game vs. Citrus College, which started back on March 25, and was eventually called due to darkness after six hours of play.
Were Glendale to go on and win that contest, COC would be forced to share its title.
But Estrada and the Cougars didn’t seem too worried about that possibility on Thursday.
“This puts us in a great seed, we’re looking good for playoffs,” said the third baseman who finished the day 2-for 4 with a pair of runs and four RBIs. “But we’ve got one more game to win first.”
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The Cougars took the field on Thursday looking to build on the momentum seized during the 10th inning of Tuesday’s series opener, when COC freshman Anthony Medina ripped a two-run homer of his own that downed the Vaqueros 3-1.
Canyons plated three runs in the first inning, scoring first on a balk that brought home Cole Kleszcz and then seeing Medina come around to score on Estrada’s sacrifice attempt which was mishandled by the Glendale infield. Kris Keach later singled in Estrada to give Canyons a 3-0 lead.
Glendale kept things close with a two-run third inning of its own, before COC sophomore catcher Anthony Lepre hit a two-run shot to right field in the home half of the inning, pushing the score to 5-2.
The Vaqueros came right back with a three-run rally off COC starter Justin Dehn in the top of the fourth that tied the game at 5-5.
Lepre went yard again in the fifth inning with a solo shot to right field that allowed COC to regain the lead at 6-5. He finished the game 3-for-3 with four runs, three RBIs and a pair of walks.
“We just didn’t give up,” said COC head coach Chris Cota about his team’s ability to come up with the big hit and stay in the game. “The offense never stopped, those guys continued to believe in themselves.”
But so did the Vaqueros.
In the sixth inning Glendale right fielder Cristian Montes doubled home two runs to shift the advantage once again at 7-6. Montes ended the day 3-for-4 with a walk and five RBIs to help chase Dehn from the game.
Dehn (5-2) was charged with five earned runs through six earnings in the no decision. He did not strike out a batter for the first time this season.
“Dehn wasn’t exactly Dehn today,” said Cota about his reliable right-hander who leads Canyons with 67 strikeouts on the year. “But he kept us in the ballgame.”
COC reliever Sean Ward retired the Vaqueros in order in the seventh, but got into a bit of jam in the eighth, with Montes driving home his fifth run of the day to give Glendale an 8-7 lead.
Connor Dreyer (3-1) was called on to pitch the ninth and eventually earned the win after ending the inning on a called third strike to retire Glendale pinch hitter NJ Omoruyi.
Still trailing with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Lepre was able to extend the inning with a single to right field to bring up Estrada.
“That two-out hit by Lepre was bigger than people think,” said Cota.
Moments later, Estrada extended his arms on the home run swing that brought the Cougars pouring out of the dugout and gave Cota his fifth WSC championship.
Cota previously lead the Cougars to conference titles in 2009, 2008, 2004 and 2003.
“We’ll be ready to go tomorrow for another game,” said Cota, “and then hopefully roll into the playoffs.”
Canyons and Glendale will conclude its three-game series at 2:30 p.m. today in Glendale. COC sophomore right-hander Chase Wheatcroft is expected to get the call.
The California Community College Athletic Association Southern California Regional Baseball Playoffs will begin on May 5.
Canyons is currently the No. 8 ranked team in Southern California according to the most recent statewide coaches poll. Glendale is ranked No. 5.
The Cougars are also ranked No. 14 in the state in the most recent statewide Top-20 poll. Glendale is No. 9.