Smith shines as Vaqs rally to keep playoff hopes alive

SBCC’s Bryce Smith had only thrown a grand total of 8 1/3 innings coming into Tuesday’s must win league game against Ventura. 

The sparingly used right-hander nearly doubled his season total, throwing five sparkling innings in relief as the Vaqueros rallied from an early 6-0 deficit to stun the Pirates 9-7 at Pershing Park.

“Bryce Smith stepping up and giving us five innings out of the bullpen, 12 straight retired through his first four innings, was monstrous,” head coach Teddy Warrecker said. “That’s a kid that hasn’t had much opportunity this year, but big credit to him…for keeping himself mentally prepared to pitch, and in an absolute must win game he throws the five best innings of his life.”

Santa Barbara found itself down early as starter Chad Caraccioli walked the second batter he faced and proceeded to give up a two-run homer to former Buena High School standout AJ Gallardo. Ventura would add a pair of runs in both the second and third innings to make the score 6-0. 

But the Vaqueros answered back loudly in the third inning. Brad Marasco, Sean Costella, and Zach Chavez each hit line drive singles to load the bases, then Jake Trimble walked to force in a run. Cory Krupp promptly lashed a single into centerfield, scoring both Costella and Chavez to cut the Pirate lead in half. 

Clean up hitter Aaron Bauman flared a single over the second baseman’s head to bring in Trimble. After Bauman moved up on a wild pitch, Tony Cooper ripped a single up the middle, plating Krupp and Bauman to tie the score at six.

“[Cooper’s] a kid that was really struggling, and then he goes 5-for-5 [last game]. If you work hard and you stay mentally prepared, you have a chance for good things to happen, and I think that’s where our guys are at right now,” Warrecker said.

Warrecker then handed the ball over to Smith, who plundered the Pirates lineup by retiring the first 12 consecutive batters he faced.

“I haven’t had very many innings this year, so when I go out there I just try to do as much as I can,” Smith said.

Costella led off the fourth inning with a double and later scored on a sacrifice fly by Trimble to give the Vaqueros the lead for good.

Santa Barbara tacked on two insurance runs in the seventh inning before Warrecker handed the ball over to closer Greg Pellici in the ninth, leading 9-7.

Pellici struggled mightily with his control, issuing three consecutive one out walks before being removed from the game. 

Warrecker called on his staff ace, big Blake McFarland, to close out the game. The 6-foot-6 right-hander got Gallardo to ground to Costella at short, who took it to the bag himself before firing the ball over to first to end the game, causing the Vaquero bench to erupt out of the dugout onto the field. Even the normally mind-mannered Warrecker couldn’t help but let out a primal yell after the last out was recorded. 

“We knew coming into this game that if we lose, playoffs are over with,” McFarland said. “I think this is the best baseball we’ve played all year, these last five games.”

McFarland will take the ball on Thursday for Santa Barbara’s final home game of the season. The Vaqueros need to win their final two games in order to have any chance of making the postseason.