CBB: Bruce a model of efficiency, hurls SBCC to series sweep

Justin Bruce needed only 65 pitches to beat Rio Hondo and clinch a playoff series for the Vaqueros

Justin Bruce needed only 65 pitches to beat Rio Hondo and clinch a playoff series for the Vaqueros.

Justin Bruce turned in a masterful performance on Saturday, holding Rio Hondo to three hits in a 4-0 shutout that clinched the Southern Cal Regional baseball series for SBCC.

The third-seeded Vaqueros blanked one of the top hitting teams in the state for two straight days. Sean Barry pitched a five-hit complete game on Friday in a 5-0 victory. The Vaqueros won the best-of-3 series 2-0 and advanced to the Southern Cal Super Regional series, which they will host next weekend.

The B & B Brothers (Bruce and Barry) held the Roadrunners (26-12) to zero runs on eight hits in 18 innings.

It was the sixth straight win and 12th in 14 games for the Vaqueros (30-8), who reached 30 wins for the second time in school history. The 2007 team holds the record for wins at 34-10.

Bruce (7-1), a sophomore right-hander from San Jose, threw just 65 pitches with an impressive 50 for strikes. He struck out three and faced the minimum 27 batters thanks to a trio of double plays after singles in the fourth, fifth and eighth innings.

“I’d like to thank my defense and Payton Milone for coming through with a big two-run knock,” said Bruce, who lowered his ERA to 2.09 with his second shutout. “Most things were working for me. I have to thank our offense and defense. It’s all about pitching and defense.

“The coach likes to work with our strengths so I was only throwing fastballs outside and a curve ball once in a while. I was lucky enough to get a lot of swings to put the ball in play and that helped me out a lot.”

It was the third shutout in four games for the Vaqueros and their ninth of the year. The pitching staff is No. 3 in the state with a 2.18 ERA.

Bruce retired the first 10 batters, then gave up a single to Mo Guadarrama, who was promptly erased by a 6-4-3 double play. Bruce only threw 24 pitches in the first four innings.

“Justin Bruce faces the minimum 27 batters and we turn three double plays, what are you going say?” said SBCC’s Jeff Walker after his 97th victory. “Our starters were a little bit selfish, not letting other people play but we’ll take it.

“We scored all of our runs with two outs, that was nice to see. We showed good energy and tempo and we didn’t panic. We had total confidence with Bruce on the mound and our defense behind him.”

Playing as the visitors in Game 2, the Vaqueros got a big break when right fielder Alex Casillas dropped James Brakka’s fly ball with two outs in the top of the sixth. Rio Hondo starter Tony Ruiz walked Noeh Martinez and he was replaced by side-armer Chris Butcher.

Matt Gimenez drew a walk to load the bases and Spencer Erdman drove in the first run with an infield single to the hole at shortstop. Milone delivered a clutch two-run, pinch-hit single to the left side, boosting the lead to 3-0.

“I was trying to stay with my strengths, hit the ball the other way and get the next man up,” said Milone, a sophomore left-handed batter from Simi Valley. “It was a fastball outside. I just scooted up on the plate and went the other way and it dropped for me.”

The Vaqueros got another run in the seventh when Connor McManigal got his second hit and scored on a single to left by Martinez.

No. 2 Oxnard, which eliminated the Vaqueros one step from the State Final Four last year, was ousted by No. 17 Irvine Valley who blanked the Condors 8-0 and 1-0. SBCC will move into the No. 2 seed behind Palomar and play host to Fullerton in the next round of the playoffs.

The Vaqueros, who are making their fifth straight trip to the playoffs, will find out who they play on Sunday and the opener of the Super Regional will be Friday at Pershing Park, starting at 2 p.m.