Gunderson guides Vaqueros to Regional win

DJ Gunderson insisted he wasn’t tired after shutting down Riverside with 11 innings of one-run ball in a doubleheader sweep on Saturday that earned SBCC a 2-1 series win in the Southern Cal Regional baseball playoffs.

In a pair of must-win games, the Vaqueros (24-15) rolled past the Tigers 9-3 and 9-1 at Pershing Park. In the decisive third game of the series, Robert Vickers had two doubles and a two-run homer in the first three innings as Santa Barbara built a 7-1 lead.

“My arm feels great,” said the submarine-throwing Gunderson, after tossing three innings of relief in the opener and eight solid innings in the rubber game. “I started games in high school but I haven’t started a game in four years.

“I think teams have trouble with a pitcher like me, especially if I can locate like I did today. I threw just two pitches — fastball and slider.”

Gunderson, a sophomore right-hander from Mission Viejo, threw 162 pitches in 11 innings to pick up his fourth save and fifth win (5-4). He allowed just one run — in the third inning of the second game — on nine hits with nine strikeouts. He tossed an eight-hitter in the nightcap on 123 pitches, striking out six with three walks and two hit batters.

Santa Barbara, the WSC North champion, advances to next weekend’s Super Regionals at Santa Ana College. The seventh-seeded Vaqueros will take on No. 4 Orange Coast on Friday with No. 8 Cerritos and No. 3 Santa Ana playing in the other first-round game of the double-elimination, three-day event.

Orange Coast eliminated Hancock, the third-place team from the WSC North, in two games (9-6 and 3-0).

Saturday’s wins are believed to be the first ever in postseason play for the Vaqueros, who will be making first trip to the Super Regionals.

“This team impressed me with how they learned to play the game,” said first-year coach Ryan Thompson, the WSC North Coach of the Year. “We’re 100 percent tougher than we were at the start of the year and it’s all because they found a way to do it.

“This is the proudest I’ve been of a team in a long, long, long, long time. We did it by scoring runs, which is uncharacteristic, and we did it by battling through some unbelievable adversity.”

SBCC was the visitor in Saturday’s first game, which was Game 2 of the series. The Vaqueros scored four in the first and two in the second to grab an early 6-0 lead. Daniel Howell, returning from an injury, had two RBIs in the game, as did Joey Epperson and Tommy White.

Epperson’s six-game hit streak was halted in Saturday’s second game. He’s hit a sizzling .609 (14-23) during the streak.

Sophomore left-hander Chris Joyce went the first six innings of the opener, allowing three runs on six hits with 10 strikeouts and three walks. Gunderson pitched a scoreless final three innings, allowing just one hit and fanning three.

Vickers reached base four times in each game and scored five runs. On Friday, SBCC was held to four hits in an 8-1 setback.

“We got some balls to fall today and got more clutch hits,” said Vickers, a former Dos Pueblos High standout. “We scored early and that was the story of the day. Our pitchers were unbelievable, especially DJ. I wasn’t expecting him to throw 11 innings.

“We’re going to the Super Regionals and we’re not done yet.”

Game 2
SBCC …….….. 420 102 000 — 9 7 4
Riverside …… 000 102 000 — 3 7 4
Joyce, Gunderson (7) and White; McNutt, Hopper (2), Mack (5), Thomsen (6), Lutz (7), Mudron (9) and Ponce, McMath (9). W–Joyce 7-0. L–McNutt 2-1. S–Gunderson 4.
2B–SB: Howell. R: Kiriakos, Cuckovich. 3B–SB: Cavalier.

Game 3
Riverside …….. 001 000 000 — 1 8 1
SBCC …….….… 223 002 00x — 9 9 1
Chabot, Butler (2), Mejia (5), Tomsen (7) and Ponce; Gunderson, Perry and White. W–Gunderson 5-4. L–Chabot 3-3.
2B–SB: Vickers 2, Michaels. HR–Vickers (3), 3rd inn., one on.