| August 3, 2023
Photo Credit: Sonny Tapia
By CCL Reporter Sean Brennan
Both the Arroyo Seco Saints and Orange County Riptide had compelling cases for why each could win the CCL 30 South Divisional Round and reach the CCL 30 State Championship.
The ‘Tide came into Wednesday’s contest with some momentum, having defeated the Conejo Oaks in the CCL 30 Wild Card Game less than 24 hours earlier. Orange County also posted a 6-1 record against the Saints during the regular season, a feat that is extremely difficult for any team to accomplish.
However, the Riptide’s lone regular season loss to Arroyo Seco came just over a week ago on July 26, which came amid a torrid 13-game stretch that saw the Saints win 10 contests and plate an astounding 110 runs heading into the postseason.
Despite seemingly having no trouble scoring over the past two weeks, it was Arroyo Seco’s pitching that sealed a berth in the State Championship series. Three arms – righty Carter Herrera (Cal State Fullerton) along with left-handers Peyton Cariaco (Kent State) and Kevin Warunek (Longwood) – combined to shut out the Riptide, holding the opposition to five hits in a 1-0 victory.
During the regular season, Arroyo Seco’s pitching numbers were among the CCL’s best, as it recorded the third-lowest team ERA (3.53) and WHIP (1.34) in the entire league. So when the Saints put together yet another dominant performance on the mound, it came as no surprise to head coach Aaron Milam.
“For the whole season, our pitchers have given us a chance to win,” Milam said. “In 20 years, it’s the best pitching staff that we’ve ever had as a whole, because every day, there’s a guy to go. When you come out of the pen, there’s a guy equally as good. Very validating that it’s a shutout victory.”
Herrera, who started in his seventh game of the summer, has established himself as one of Arroyo Seco’s best pitchers, finishing the regular season with a 2.00 ERA while leading the team in strikeouts (35) and innings pitched (36.0). The rising sophomore tossed six scoreless frames of three-hit ball on Wednesday, and once again proved his strong outings are a gift that keeps on giving.
“Carter Herrera is has been the most consistent pitcher we’ve had,” Milam said. “In every start that Carter’s had, he’s given us a chance to win… That’s been Carter all year – consistent. And if and when there’s a small situation where there’s jams, he pitches his way out. Couldn’t have asked for anything more from Carter Herrera this year.”
But the Saints' offense also ran into a hot starter in righty Matthew Maloney (UNLV), the reigning CCL Pitcher of the Year. Aside from a pair of leadoff singles conceded, Maloney enjoyed one of his best starts of the season and accrued three strikeouts in 2.0 innings of work, a solid performance that set the tone for right-handed reliever Brett Garcia (Baylor).
Out of the gate, Garcia picked up right where Maloney left off, and retired the first six Saints he faced. This streak was promptly broken, however, when outfielder Kyte McDonald (Rice) got ahold of a 2-0 pitch, clubbing his team-leading fifth homer to lead off the fifth and give Arroyo Seco a 1-0 advantage.
McDonald being the hero for the Saints on Wednesday was fitting, as the San Antonio, Texas native increased his personal hitting streak to eight games with his solo shot. With three home runs in his last three contests, McDonald’s power has also been on full display of late.
The Riptide would begin to make things interesting once Herrera exited the game after the sixth. Infielder Connor McGuire (Cal Baptist) opened the seventh inning with a single before reaching third on a botched pickoff attempt, putting Orange County in a prime position to tie the game. But Cariaco, who succeeded Herrera, set down the next three batters, escaping the frame without a scratch.
Cariaco faced a similar jam an inning later, as Riptide outfielder Cary Arbolida (Houston) recorded a leadoff single and advanced 90 feet thanks to a sacrifice bunt by McGuire. The Saints reliever responded by inducing two straight outs to once again neutralize Orange County’s threat before passing the torch to Warunek in the ninth to close out the contest.
With the win, the Saints will face the Healdsburg Prune Packers – the CCL 30 North Divisional Round winner and two-time defending champions – in the best-two-of-three CCL 30 State Championship, with the game one scheduled for Friday, August 4 at Jackie Robinson Memorial Field at 6:05 pm PST. Healdsburg went 26-9 in league play during the regular season and advanced to the championship series with a 10-7 victory over the Walnut Creek Crawdads.
Despite taking on a formidable opponent in the Packers, Milam believes his group is more than capable of bringing home its first CCL Championship in franchise history.
“Our goal every week is to win the week,” Milam said. “And we won one [game]. We have [to win] two more to win the week. So right now, we’re trying to win the week.”
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