Baseball Rallies To Sweep Rio Hondo; Makes Playoffs For 2nd Year In Row

Jason Ajamian is on the basepaths against Rio Hondo in the regular season finale Friday. The first baseman twice had clutch RBI hits to help PCC win the final two games, photo by Richard Quinton.
Jason Ajamian is on the basepaths against Rio Hondo in the regular season finale Friday. The first baseman twice had clutch RBI hits to help PCC win the final two games, photo by Richard Quinton.

The idea that the "baseball gods" look out for some teams while denying others is an age-old proverb in the game. Mythical or not, maybe the Pasadena City College baseball team has an angel on its shoulders especially after everything went its way this past week in helping the Lancers qualify for the 2018 Southern California Regional Playoffs.

After nearly a half-century of no postseason, PCC, led by its fourth-year head coach Pat McGee, is headed to the playoffs for the second straight season as the No. 12 seed. The Lancers will play at 210-134 Freeway neighbor and No. 5 Glendale College in a best-of-3-game, Round 1 series this Friday-Saturday, May 4-5. All the games are at Stengel Field, located across the street from the Glendale campus.

PCC finished the regular season at 22-18 overall and in a 3-way tie for second place in the South Coast Conference North Division at 13-9. The Lancers won a tiebreaker to grab the automatic playoff bid over Chaffey and East Los Angeles, each also 13-9.

Pasadena came close twice to losing each of the final two games v. last-place Rio Hondo, but rallied in both to sweep the series. The Lancers also had help as SCC North champ Mt. San Antonio won two of three games v. East LA, a team that needed two wins to end PCC's playoff hopes. Chaffey also could have finished in second by itself, but split its last two games at SCC South champ Cerritos. Had the Panthers swept, PCC would not have advanced to the postseason.

The Lancers had the hardest task of playing essentially three elimination games v. Rio Hondo. After a 9-0 win to open the series on April 24, things looked bleak as PCC trailed the host Roadrunners in game 2, 3-2, going into the top of the ninth inning on April 26. First baseman Jason Ajamian lined a 1-out, RBI single to tie it. With two outs, shortstop Jose Jimenez was hit by a pitch to load the bases, and centerfielder John Bicos then also got plunked for the go-ahead run. A bases-loaded walk to Edward Manzo gave PCC a 2-run lead.

In the bottom of the ninth, closer Jesus Zarazua managed to get out of a bases-loaded jam when Aiden Gutierrez hit a sharp grounder to Jimenez, who stepped on the second base bag to end a 5-3 comeback victory. 

In the conference finale the next day (April 27) at Brookside Park's Jackie Robinson Field, the Lancers again fell behind, 3-2, going into the bottom of the seventh. Just like at Rio Hondo, Ajamian was clutch as he knocked a single to left past a drawn-in infield that drove home second baseman Ryan Lewis, who led off the inning with a double. After Ajamian reached second on a wild pitch, designated hitter Daniel Netz hit a soft but low-flight pop up that somehow Gutierrez lost in the sun and dropped. The odd error was followed by a RBI groundout to first by rightfielder Ardon Fryer, scoring Ajamian for the go-ahead run at 4-3. 

The Lancers added two runs in the eighth for a 6-3 cushion, but nothing came easy in this series. With two outs, Rio Hondo kept the game alive mixing two hits and two PCC errors to cut the lead to one. Again the Roadrunners loaded the bases, but it was PCC reliever Frank Gonzalez inducing Lucas Rocha to hit a routine grounder to Lewis that capped a 6-5 victory. Nathan Garkow hurled seven strong innings (eight hits, three runs, no walks, four strikeouts) for his sixth win.

PCC is a perfect 6-0 in 1-run games this season. In games decided by two runs or less, the Lancers are an outstanding 11-2.

"It is almost never pretty or smooth, but we find ways to win," McGee said. "We had some freshmen like Manzo, Lewis and Ajamian step up at the plate and a few others on the mound. Our freshmen relievers did the job the last few games especially Patrick Pena, Zarazua, and Gonzalez. A failed at bat, a poor pitch and our season was done. It was gut-check time and our guys came through."

On making the postseason for the second straight season, McGee said: "One of the hardest things to do is follow up a great season like winning the conference title in 2017, and not experience a letdown. We had a veteran-led team last year, so to go out and win 22 games and grab a playoff seed with a far younger group means we have established ourselves at PCC. It's a program to be proud about."

In facing Glendale (28-12), the Lancers previously lost a 5-1 decision against the Vaqueros on February 20. Glendale was the champion of the Western State Conference East Division.

The 2018 Playoff Brackets are at link below: