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Holton guides Vaqueros past Ventura 7-5 and into the playoffs

Jake Holton went 2-4 with 2 RBIs and pitched the ninth inning for his state-leading 11th save. (Photo by Ken Sciallo / Sevilla Photography)
Jake Holton went 2-4 with 2 RBIs and pitched the ninth inning for his state-leading 11th save. (Photo by Ken Sciallo / Sevilla Photography)

SBCC fell behind 4-0 in the first two innings on Thursday, then stormed back to beat Ventura 7-5 and earn a trip to the CCCAA baseball playoffs.

The Vaqueros (20-20, 11-9) finished second in the WSC North, thanks to Cuesta's 8-2 win at Hancock. Ventura (20-20), Hancock and Cuesta tied for third at 10-10.

Santa Barbara will be making its eighth straight trip to the postseason. The pairings for the 18-team Southern Cal Regional will be announced on Sunday.

First baseman Jake Holton sparked the Vaqueros, going 2-4 with two RBIs and pitching a white-knuckle ninth to earn his state-leading 11th save. He already broke the school record for saves in a season and he picked up his sixth save in conference, tying Vinnie Agapito's 2007 school record.

Rudy Aguilar hit a two-run homer in the first for the Pirates and they made it 4-0 in the second on RBI single by Steele Ledford and an error that brought home TJ Foreman

The Vaqueros got two in the fourth when the second baseman couldn't locate Elijah Hodges' short fly to right field and it went for a two-run double. SBCC tied it 4-4 with two in the fifth. Patrick Caulfield singled and scored on an error and Holton drove in John Jensen with an RBI single through the left side.

"We knew our offense would start hitting, we've faced that pitcher a few times and we knew we had the advantage the second or third time through the lineup," said Holton, a sophomore from Los Gatos. "It's awesome to get into the playoffs. We knew what we had to do and we won our game. Luckily, Cuesta was able to help us out."

Holton went 8-13 in three games this week, extending his hit streak to 11 games and boosting his batting average to a WSC North-leading .386. Mitch Sancier and Nicholas Prainito both went 2-3.

The Vaqueros took a 5-4 lead in the sixth when pinch-hitter Boston Hubbard singled to the hole at shortstop, stole second, went to third on an errant throw by catcher Shane Gipson and scored on a sacrifice fly by Phil Quartararo.

Dayton Provost led off the seventh with a solo homer to right, tying it at 5.

The Vaqueros took advantage of four straight singles and two errors to score two in the seventh. Jensen drove in the go-ahead run with a single up the middle, extending his hitting streak to 15 games. Holton followed with an RBI single through the left side, scoring Jensen.

Ian Churchill went the first 4.1 innings for the Vaqueros, giving up four runs (three earned) on five hits with seven strikeouts and three walks. William Blackburn tossed a solid 3.2 innings to register the victory.

"Will Blackburn, what can you say?" said Vaquero coach Jeff Walker. "They gave us life with that dropped pop-up and then Will comes in on short rest and does an outstanding job.

"Today was a battle for second place and to make it to Season 3. This was like a playoff game and we should be in a wild-card game on Tuesday. Our pitching lines up well with Brett Vansant, our best pitcher, ready to go."

Walker has led the Vaqueros to the Southern Cal Regional in all seven of his seasons. They've finished in the top two in the WSC North every year with three championships and four second-place finishes.

Holton moved from first base to the mound to pitch the ninth and the defense made things interesting. Prainito commited an error on the first batter and Provost singled. The runners were bunted to second and third. The Pirates loaded the bases with one out after shortstop Ryan Guardino dropped a fly ball in shallow center field.

Holton got Gipson on a short fly to center and induced AJ Medrano to ground to Guardino, who got the game-ending forceout at second base.

"My last three or four saves have been nail-biters," said Holton. "We need to tighten up our defense in the playoffs."