CPP received a No. 4 ranking in the latest West Region polls, with the top six teams eligible for the NCAA tournament, the Broncos looked toward the selection show for an at-large bid. | Photo courtesy of Will G. MacNeil

CPP swings for the fences, falls short against San Francisco State in CCAA tournament semifinal

By Aaron Coloma and Samantha Campion, May 14, 2024

Cal Poly Pomona hosted the 2024 CCAA Baseball Tournament May 8 through 11, looking to secure its second tournament championship in three years.

The tournament consisted of the six best teams by record in conference play. The first day featured two elimination games between the four lowest-seeded teams. After the first day’s games, teams were reseeded for a double-elimination tournament. The opening game was the first postseason game played on Scolinos Field since 1985.

Game One: Sonoma State

In the first game of the tournament, the Broncos took on the Sonoma State Seawolves. Two-time CCAA Pitcher of the Year Caleb Reyes took the mound for the Broncos, throwing eight and two-thirds innings with six strikeouts and zero earned runs for the Broncos on 131 pitches.

“There’s no one else we wanted to have the ball,” said head coach Randy Betten. “Elimination game and Caleb’s been a force the whole time he’s been here, and when he has the ball in his hand I feel very, very confident.”

The Broncos took an early lead through third baseman Darius Price’s first-inning, bases-loaded walk, bringing home Jack Sanders who had reached base on an infield single.

CPP kept its momentum going into the second inning when Sanders struck again, capitalizing on a breaking ball over the plate, which he mashed for a two-run home run high off the batter’s eye in center field to extend the Broncos’ lead to 3-0.

“Jack has been swinging the bat really well,” said designated hitter Anthony Gibbons. “Out of Jack, you kind of know that’s going to happen. Jack’s always going to have a good game, catch barrels, and that’s exactly what he did.”

The score remained the same until the top of the sixth inning when a throwing error gave the Seawolves their first run of the game and put two runners in scoring position, both of whom scored through a single in the following at-bat to tie the game 3-3.

The game didn’t stay tied for long, however, as Gibbons scored first baseman Marco Malerba on a bloop single to right field the following inning to break the deadlock. Gibbons also scored through a single from Price.

“My main focus was just to get something in the air,” said Gibbons. “I had to make sure I saw the ball up because I might chase something that’s just going to be a ground ball, and Marco can’t advance. He backed up a slider on me, it worked, and I got it in the air.”

CPP didn’t look back after that, holding the Seawolves at bay and scoring three insurance runs in the bottom of the eighth to secure an 8-3 win and a spot against Cal State San Marcos in the four-team double-elimination bracket.

Game Two: Cal State San Marcos

Second-team All-CCAA selection Noel Soto got the start for the green and gold in game two. With a 7-2 record this season, Soto looked to continue his dominant performance from the mound.

After two scoreless innings, the Broncos employed a strategic bunting offense approach to open up the field in the top of the third.

CPP sparked a series of runs behind shortstop Nick Lugo with a leadoff bunt single, followed by a sacrifice bunt by center fielder Brent Cota and a fielder’s choice by Sanders, giving the Broncos their first run of the day.

“A big thing we preach is getting it to the next guy,” said catcher Johnny Pappas. “There’s not one guy in our lineup that has to do all the work. We have a very deep lineup, and we truly believe that if we do our job, whether it’s a walk, base hit, or a big swing, the guy behind me is going to get it done.”

With the bases loaded, a two-run single to left field by right fielder AJ Nimeh and a two-run double to left center field by Price earned the Broncos two extra runs. The final run of the inning came through an infield single to shortstop by Lugo and gave CPP a 6-0 advantage over the Cougars.

After a scoreless fourth inning, Lugo powered the offense for CPP with an RBI groundout to first base to score Nimeh home in the fifth, followed by a pitching error by San Marcos that delivered an additional run to increase the Broncos lead to 8-0.

In the bottom of the seventh, San Marcos got on the board behind a solo home run before the Broncos responded in the top of the eighth with back-to-back doubles by Pappas and Sanders to extend their lead to 10-1.

In seven innings, Soto allowed only three runs and six hits on 97 pitches to record a quality start for his eighth win of the season.

San Marcos found their offensive rhythm late in the bottom of the eighth with two runs scored on four hits, applying pressure to the Broncos to close out the last inning.

However, relief pitcher Anthony Vazquez rose to the challenge, completing a scoreless ninth inning with one strikeout to secure the dominant win over the Cougars 10-3 and advance to the semifinals where they faced No.1 seed Monterey Bay.

Catcher Johnny Pappas launched a clutch home-run in the bottom of the ninth inning against Monterey Bay to send the game into extra innings. | Photo courtesy of Will G. MacNeil

Game Three: Cal State Monterey Bay

CPP took an early lead in the semifinal when Gibbons hit his second home run of the tournament, rifling a solo shot into the trees behind the left field fence in the bottom of the second. Price kept the momentum going with a single in the following at-bat, and eventually crossed the plate after a sacrifice fly by second baseman Beau Betten to extend the lead to 2-0.

The Broncos picked up again in the fifth inning when Gibbons recorded his second hit and RBI of the day, scoring Sanders from third with a single to left field.

Starting pitcher Evan Adolphus kept the Otters at bay with an impressive outing. Adolphus finished the game with eight shutout innings, allowing just three hits and one walk with three strikeouts in 121 pitches, his highest tally of the season.

“He was amazing,” said head coach Randy Betten. “He had three pitches for strikes, he was throwing it where he wanted, kind of set the tempo for the day. He was unbelievable. I’ve got nothing but pride in what he did out there.”

Down to their last three outs, the Otters’ bats caught fire in the top of the ninth. Pinch hitter Garrett Santos and left fielder Chase Lindemann provided no-out knocks for CSUMB, putting themselves in scoring position with the tying run at the plate. After CPP retired the next two batters without consequence, cleanup hitter Jaden Sheppard brought both runners home with a line drive single to right field.

Monterey Bay didn’t stop there, notching two more runs to take a 4-3 lead late on.

Leading off the bottom of the ninth, Pappas gave the Broncos a lifeline with a clutch game-tying bomb to left center field.

“There’s no other guy I want to the plate in a situation like that,” said Randy Betten. “To tie it like that with a home run to lead off the inning, it just created momentum on our side again.”

Malerba and Nimeh both found the basepaths after Pappas’ heroics but were left stranded, sending the game to extra innings.

The Otters’ Max Farfan kicked off the top of the 10th with a walk, which was followed by a bunt to advance him to second. Lindemann stepped up to the plate again and hit a line drive single to left field, which scored Farfan after a close play at home to make the score 5-4.

The Broncos were unable to find the spark they needed in the bottom of the 10th, going 0 for 3 and sending them to their second game of the night, an elimination game in the second bracket against No. 4 seeded San Francisco State.

Game Four: San Francisco State

In the opening frame against the Gators, the Broncos stumbled on the risk of elimination and struggled to find momentum early on.

After neither team recorded a run in the first three innings, San Francisco State reached the board first with a double down the left-field line in the bottom of the third. The Gators carried this momentum into the fifth inning, adding two more runs off five consecutive hits for a 5-0 lead over the Broncos.

It wasn’t until the sixth inning the Broncos regained their hope of a comeback when Sanders launched his 13th home run of the season to left-center field, tying for the fifth-most in a season in school history.

Despite a scoreless sixth inning, CPP seized the opportunity to chip away at San Fransico State’s lead with a four-run sequence in the seventh inning. The Broncos demonstrated aggressive play infield as second baseman Beau Betten capitalized off a single to shortstop to steal second before Pappas singled to left-center field, sending Betten home to cut the deficit to 5-2.

In the final stretch of the sequence, the Broncos were in scoring position with Pappas at third and a stolen second base from Sanders. Malerba delivered a single down the left side for a costly error by the Gators to secure two more runs for CPP, nearly completing a comeback before a flyout would end the inning.

The Broncos were unable to score in the final two innings, ultimately falling to the Gators 5-4 and eliminating them from the CCAA tournament.

“I know we didn’t win it; I wanted to win it for our guys, but what a great opportunity for you to play on your home field, even though it’s called a neutral site,” said Randy Betten. “I mean just to go out there and compete, I love seeing our guys compete, and they’ve done a good job all year.”

Their postseason dreams remain alive, however. In the NCAA selection show which took place Sunday, May 12, CPP, which ranked fourth in the West Region after the CCAA Tournament, was selected for an at-large berth to the NCAA Division II West Regional. The Broncos’ opening game against Cal State San Marcos will take place Thursday, May 16.

Feature image courtesy of Will G. MacNeil

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