By Dave Loveton
SBCC Sports Information
MOORPARK -- SBCC used efficient hitting and effective pitching from its two aces – Ian Churchill and Conner Roberts – to down Moorpark 9-4 on Thursday and secure its third WSC North baseball title in the last five years.
The Vaqueros (23-13, 13-7) tied Ventura for the conference crown. The Pirates will get the No. 1 seed and host a Regional playoff series while the Vaqueros will be on the road for a best-of-3 series on Friday and Saturday, May 3-4.
Santa Barbara was 5-7 in the WSC on March 29, then reeled off eight straight conference wins to secure its ninth straight trip to the Southern Cal Regional. The Vaqueros are the only Southern California school to make the playoffs in each of the last nine years.
SBCC took a 4-2 lead in the fifth on RBI singles from Patrick Caulfield and Alonzo Rubalcaba. The Vaqueros had 11 hits in the first five innings and tied their season high with 18 hits.
Rubalcaba, a freshman catcher from Fairfield, Calif., went 3-4 with two RBIs and Nicholas Prainito was 2-5 with three RBIs. First baseman Jacob Bravo was 3-5 with two doubles and two runs.
"This feels awesome," said Prainito, a sophomore second baseman from Menlo Park. "It was all about defense and pitching today. We played a great defensive game and we got the hits when we needed them."
Churchill, a sophomore lefty from San Marcos High who's signed with Arizona, pitched seven solid innings, giving up three runs on six hits and striking out five to improve to 8-1.
The Vaqueros stretched the lead to 5-2 in the sixth when Bravo singled to right, went to second on a groundout and scored on Alex Holets' double to left. Moorpark got two runners on in the eighth and Dominic Ruggiero knocked in Zach Nissim to make it 6-3 and chase Churchill.
Roberts entered with runners at first and second and no outs. Ben Lech sacrificed the runners to second and third, which is where they stayed after Roberts got Wyatt Walerinta on a huge strikeout and retired Woody Woodruff on a line-out to center field.
"Winning the conference was our goal the whole season," said Roberts, a hard-throwing transfer from UCSB. "When I first showed up at CC, everyone was talking about getting our number on the fence (as in the year 2019 as WSC champs) at home. We had a little slump in the middle of conference, then we all said, 'This is what we have to do to reach our goal' and we did it.
"When we come in to relieve, our job is to get outs with runners on base with minimal damage. I knew when it was Churchill and I on the bump that we had a pretty good chance to win. Churchill has been phenomenal all year."
The Vaqueros gave themselves a good cushion by scoring four in the ninth to stretch the margin to 9-3. Pinch-hitter Mason Metcalfe singled to right and Benjamin Martz and Caulfield drew walks to load the bases with one out. Rubalcaba delivered a sacrifice fly to right and Prainito followed with a two-out, two-run double to left-center. Nicholas Trifiletti drove in Prainito with a single up the middle.
Moorpark (15-23, 7-13) loaded the bases with one out in the ninth on three straight singles. Michael Teobaldi scored on a groundout to first and then Roberts got Ruggiero to look at strike three for his first save, touching off a big celebration near the mound.
Roberts pitched the last two innings, giving up one run on four hits with three strikeouts.
"We learned from all the mistakes we made in March and we played an excellent April," said eighth-year Vaquero coach Jeff Walker, whose team is 10-2 in April and batting .319. "Kudos to our guys and the job they've done. With Ian and Conner throwing today, I really liked our chances.
"Alonzo had a big day for us, Nick's been swinging the bat well and we played good defense."
Nick Prainito went 2-5 and drove in three runs, raising his average to .291. (Photo by Dave Loveton)