By Christian Malone, March 21, 2023
The Broncos welcomed the CSU Monterey Bay Otters to Scolinos Field from March 11 to 12 for a four-game home series and won three of the four games, securing the series victory and improving to a 5-3 conference record on the season.
The Broncos knew the battle against Cal State Monterey Bay, who had a 7-1 conference record, would be a fierce one. Head coach Randy Betten attributed the Broncos’ ability to compete in the hard-fought series to their winning mindset.
“I think it’s the resilience to compete,” Betten said. “They just want to compete and compete till that last out. They wanted to win. That’s how much they love to win.”
The start of game one featured shaky defensive performances from both dugouts. Runners on both teams were able to reach third base, but both halves of the opening inning ultimately ended scoreless.
After the tense first inning, both pitchers locked down their defensive games. Bronco pitcher Rhys Stevens kept the Otters at bay for eight innings.
“In that first inning I was really shaky,” Stevens said. “There were bases loaded at one point, but I think over the course of my outings I usually get more comfortable the deeper I go.”
The game remained scoreless throughout the nine scheduled innings and well into extras. After almost three hours of play, the deadlock finally ended in the 13th.
Otter second baseman Drew Williams hit a solo home run before CPP relief pitcher Scott Armstrong closed out the inning and left the Broncos in need of one run to tie the game.
The Broncos quickly got a runner in scoring position as a walk, a defensive throwing error and a sacrifice bunt sent second baseman Nick Lugo to third base. Catcher Ben Lee then stepped up to pinch hit and brought Lugo home with an RBI groundout. The play tied the game at one headed into the 14th inning.
Despite the bases being loaded for the Otters again in the 14th, the Broncos refused to let up. Armstrong induced a flyout to left fielder Brent Cota, who comfortably sent the game into the bottom of the 14th.
Cota was first up in the bottom of the 14th and got hit by a pitch that advanced him to first base, representing the winning run.
Bronco first baseman Marco Malerba delivered the first extra base hit of the game and sent Cota all the way to third. After an intentional walk, catcher Johnny Pappas popped a sacrifice fly into right that scored Cota as the winning run in the prolonged first game of the series.
Malerba not only provided the only extra base hit of game one but also dominated defensively. The first baseman led the game with 16 putouts and effectively prevented any runners from stealing second.
Malerba said the team’s practice regiment helped prepare him for the tense moments on the field.
“Each week we purposely make our practices tough so we’re prepared for those spots,” Malerba said. “When it comes game time and we get in those situations, it becomes not as stressful.”
The Broncos carried their momentum into game two and ultimately won comfortably.
The fireworks started early as Lugo and center fielder Nin Burns II both scored in the second inning and gave the Broncos the early 2-0 lead. Otter center fielder Kyle Guerra scored in the third and cut the Broncos’ lead to one headed into the fourth.
In the top of the fourth, Burns II made the first of several impressive running catches to preserve pitcher Caleb Reyes’ shutout for the remainder of the game.
From the fifth inning onward, the game was all Broncos. CPP scored one run in the bottom of the fourth, two in the fifth, one in the sixth, and two in the seventh to give them a comfortable lead of 8-1. The scoreline did not change from that point on as the Broncos cruised to another win.
On the defensive side, Burns II continued to make remarkable catches deep in center field that included a collision with the outfield fence while making the play.
“After I got up, I felt a little bit in my arm, but when I got back in the dugout, it was all good to go,” Burns II said. “I knew that I had to get back out there to play the rest of the game for my team, because that’s what it’s about.”
After capping off Saturday’s doubleheader with two wins, the Broncos looked to continue their winning streak in game three.
Unfortunately for the home team, the visitors dominated them offensively in game number three.
The Otters’ aggression started immediately after the Otters plated their first run in only the first two at-bats of the game. Bronco Noel Soto managed to close the inning without allowing another hit.
Pappas scored in the home half of the frame to level the game at one, but the momentum was short-lived.
In the top of the third inning, Otters’ catcher Dominic Felice doubled with two runners on base and brought the score to 3-1. The Broncos replied with a run of their own in the bottom of the third, but their offensive production in the game extinguished quickly.
After a few scoreless innings, the Otters opened the floodgates and scored seven runs in the sixth inning. In the seventh, the Otters onslaught continued with a two-run home run, RBI single, and grand slam which gave the Otters an insurmountable 17-2 lead. The Broncos turned to the bullpen five times but could do nothing to stop the Otter offense.
In the final inning of the game, the Otters tacked on an 18th run before the Broncos mustered a single consolation run. This sealed the Otters’ 18-3 victory and marked the most lopsided scoreline of any CCAA game so far this season.
Headed into the series closer, Betten implored his team to keep their heads in the game after the blowout loss.
“‘How resilient are you?’” Betten said he asked his team. “‘You know, the scoreboard’s going to roll back to zeros. It’s 40 minutes from that last out. That game’s flushed. How do we respond?’”
Early in the fourth game, it became clear that it would not be a rout for either team. The Otters opened the scoring with a one-run RBI double in the third inning.
In the home half of the frame, a double play and groundout killed the Broncos’ momentum and snuffed out their chance to knot up the score.
The Broncos came to bat in the bottom of the sixth after two and a half scoreless innings determined to prevent a series split. In the third at-bat of the inning, with two outs, Pappas just cleared the fence in left field, with a home run that brought new life to the Broncos’ offense.
Through another 1-1 deadlock after scheduled play, game four of the series headed into extras for the second time in as many days. Cal State Monterey Bay’s offense couldn’t muster any progress against Broncos’ reliever Matt Orozco’s quick 1-2-3 inning.
In the bottom of the eighth, Cota stepped up to the plate with an opportunity to seal a victory for the Bronco faithful. Cota calmly singled to right field and easily reached first base. Malerba then confidently delivered a sacrifice bunt mere feet away from home and advanced Cota to second.
The Otters then turned to the bullpen to try and keep Bronco third baseman Tyler Chaffee at bay. In the end, however, the Broncos once again found their run through a defensive error.
After Chaffee drove the ball down the left foul line, the Otters’ third baseman missed his throw to first. Cota rounded home on the error and delivered a walk-off victory to the Broncos.
With game four’s walk-off victory, the Broncos clinched a 3-1 series win and improved to a 13-5 record overall.
Next, the Broncos are scheduled to visit Cal State San Bernardino for an away series where they will look to further improve their season record.
Feature image courtesy of CPP Athletics
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