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Vaqueros drop WSC finale 3-2, finish second in conference

Noeh Villegas struck out 8 of the first 12 batters and pitched 7 strong innings. (Photo by Dave Loveton)
Noeh Villegas struck out 8 of the first 12 batters and pitched 7 strong innings. (Photo by Dave Loveton)

Harsa Aditya outdueled SBCC's Noah Villegas on Thursday and L.A. Pierce handed the Vaqueros a 3-2 baseball setback in the WSC North finale at Pershing Park.

Santa Barbara, ranked No. 10 in Southern Cal, finishes second in conference at 11-9. Oxnard won the WSC North at 14-6 and Hancock and Pierce tied for third at 10-10.

The Vaqueros earned their fourth straight trip to the Southern Cal Regional playoffs, which start on May 2-3 with a best-of-3 series. The pairings will be announced on Sunday and SBCC is hoping for one of the top eight seeds and a home berth.

"This game didn't mean a lot to us in terms of the playoffs," said coach Jeff Walker. "We'll get the second automatic bid and it depends on the RPI as to whether we're at home or not."

Aditya held the Vaqueros (23-13) to two runs (one earned) on seven hits in seven innings. Villegas, a freshman right-hander, also went seven innings, giving up three runs (two earned) on eight hits with eight strikeouts and three walks.

Villegas struck out eight of the first 12 batters but the Brahmas (19-16-1) got to him in the sixth, breaking a scoreless tie with three runs on five hits. The Vaqueros made an error on a rundown play between first and second, allowing the third run to score with two outs.

"I got a little tired in the sixth and started leaving some balls up," said Villegas. "My split (split-fingered fastball) was working early and that's pretty much what I base everything on. Throwing that pitch and keeping it low."

Connor McManigal went 2-3 for the Vaqueros but also made a couple of costly baserunning errors. He singled in the fourth, stole second and scored on a passed ball and throwing error by the catcher.

SBCC cut the deficit to 3-2 on a leadoff triple by Brandon Evans in the sixth and an RBI groundout by Noeh Martinez. McManigal was hit by a pitch and went to third on a one-out single by Patrick O'Brien. McManigal was picked off third by the catcher and James Brakka lined out to right to end the threat.

"We played a good game, Noah pitched well and Cody (Van Aken) right behind him," stated Walker. "We hit a lot of balls hard right at guys, we didn't stay on the top inside part of the ball enough. They played great, we just made a couple of mistakes.

"We missed a couple of signs which is discouraging this late in the season. But it's just one of those things."

Brett Sesma went 1-3 on Thursday and leads the Vaqueros in batting at .354. The sophomore second baseman is hitting .529 (9-17) in his last six games.

SBCC made the playoffs for the fourth straight year – the longest current streak of any WSC North team. It's also the longest consecutive streak of playoff appearances in program history.

"We're playing well at the right time," Walker concluded. "We've pretty much played 20 games (in conference) against 20 playoff-type teams. … We're battle-tested, we've come back a lot, we've faced some good pitching and well-coached teams, which is the stuff you run into in the playoffs."