The long warmer days of Spring have arrived and the smell of fresh cut grass fills the air signals the arrival of May. It also means postseason play for California junior college baseball is just around the corner.
Cabrillo College is set to play in the Northern California CCCAA Regional playoffs, which get underway this week.
The No. 12-seed Seahawks travel to the Central Valley to take on No. 6-seed Fresno City College on Friday in a best-of-three series. The series concludes Saturday with game 2 or, if necessary, a third and deciding game 3 shortly after.
By earning a Top-16 seed, Cabrillo was able to bypass the always dangerous single elimination CCCAA Wild Card game, where the bottom four teams battle for two at-large spots in the first round.
After missing the playoffs last year, the Seahawks look to survive and advance against a deep Rams squad in the brutal Central Valley heat, which is expected to reach temperatures as high as 87 degrees.
Fresno City (30-10, 17-4) are loaded with talent from bow to stern with a potent offense paired with an elite pitching staff.
The Central Valley Conference champion Rams closed out the regular season going 5-2 in the final seven games, edging Taft College (25-14, 16-5) and the College of the Sequoias (23-16-1) for the conference title.
Cabrillo (22-16, 10-8) recovered from an early losing streak in April going 5-2 over the final seven games of the regular season. The surge-enabled Seahawks closed out their Coast Conference Pacific schedule in second place and ranked No. 16 in the CCCBCA poll at the end of the year.
When both teams met previously on Feb. 23 in Fresno, the Seahawks took advantage of three fielding errors by the Rams in the late innings to get an 8-4 victory.
The Rams strike out 10.92 batters per nine innings, which is more than any other team in the CCCAA, and have tallied a total of 427 strikeouts in 352 innings. They also have the second-lowest team ERA (2.51) in the state and have surrendered just seven home runs all year.
By contrast, the Cabrillo pitching staff struggled this season to keep runs off the board by allowing 5.71 runs per game and surrendering 105 runs in the month of April.
With the exception of their ace, “Big Game” Gio Besio, the Seahawks will need pitchers like redshirt sophomore James Schwenger to step up and deliver performances similar to last week’s season-saving game against Canada College.
“We are just going to play our game and stay within ourselves,” said Besio. “I am just going to keep doing what works for me, try to keep the ball down and play my best.”
The explosive Rams offense ranks in the top-10 throughout the state in most statistical categories including home runs, RBIs, doubles, triples and slugging percentage.
Fresno City’s offensive attack is anchored by outfielder and pitcher Chet Allison, who is hitting at a .439 batting average along with an eye-popping 1.376 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. The sophomore slugger has hit 10 home runs, driven in 46 RBIs and stolen 17 bases in 148 at-bats.
Allison also scores a run at least 36 percent of the time he steps up to the plate.
With five hitters in the Fresno City lineup hitting at least at a .300 average or better, any free passes issued by the Seahawks staff could potentially be costly to them.
Opponents are hitting at a .289 batting average against the Seahawks this season. But, none of that phases Seahawks coach Bob Kittle.
“We already played them,” Kittle said. “And we already beat them.”
Kittle’s swagger is justified after watching his program put it all together in the closing days of the regular season. The Seahawks combined timely hitting with big-time pitching performances to return to the playoffs after a brief hiatus last season.
“Just rinse and repeat baby,” said Schwenger. “This is what you work for all season, lets go.”
There’s also more than a chance the plucky Seahawks could find a way into the second round for the sixth time in ten years. Especially with pitchers like Schwenger, sophomore Cody Brown and freshman Justice Naraghi, who are playing better than their season averages during a time when it matters most.
In baseball, getting hot at the right time is more important than season accumulated stats. And late season adversity has a way of welding programs together.
Conference rival Monterey Peninsula College (22-18, 9-9) also snuck into the playoffs, beating the College of Sequoias, 7-1, on Tuesday in one of the play-in Wild Card games. The Lobos finished the regular season ranked third in the conference, but their strength of schedule kept them in the title hunt.
Game one between Cabrillo and Fresno City is scheduled Friday at Euless Park in Fresno with first pitch at 3:30 p.m. Game two is Saturday at noon and if necessary, game three is shortly after.
Editor's Note: This article will be published in the May 3 edition of the Register-Pajaronian.