Derick Velazquez didn't like the signs the universe was sending him.
Minutes before the Merced College ace was set to leave for the ballpark on Saturday, a gust of wind came up and blew his front door closed, locking him out of his apartment.
In his efforts to break back into his home by hammering off the doorknob, the big right-hander sliced the index finger on his pitching hand.
Then there was the cramp.
With the bases loaded, no one out and MC staked to a one-run lead in the top of the sixth, Velazquez went down in a heap behind the mound as his hamstring locked up after a 2-2 pitch.
It seemed like the formula for a long afternoon, but the freshman was poised to deal with anything thrown his way. After five minutes of treatment and a couple test pitches, Velazquez stayed in the game and fought his way out of the jam with consecutive strikeouts and a fly ball to center.
The Blue Devils broke the game open one inning later and ended up cruising to a 7-1 victory over the Vikings in Game 1 of their best-of-three NorCal Regional series. Game 2 will be played today at 11 a.m., with Game 3 to follow if necessary.
“I was a little worried it wasn't going to be my day,” Velazquez said. “It didn't start well and then I was a little bit wild in the first inning. The cramp was just one more thing to overcome. “That first strikeout was big. It was on a 3-2 pitch that could have gone either way. It gave me the momentum to get out of the inning.” Velazquez wasn't done. He danced his way out of runners on second and third and just one out in the seventh inning. Ricky Diaz had a big assist in the inning, tagging out the lead runner on a ground ball to third. Velazquez threw seven-plus innings allowing one run on five hits while striking out six.
The Blue Devils (26-11) wasted little time picking their pitcher up after that, pushing across five runs in the bottom half of the seventh to break the game open. Sammy Ramirez was plunked to start the inning and, after a groundout, West Valley intentionally walked Kirk Rocha. Jake Barcellos (3 for 5) made the Vikings pay with a run-scoring double, and Matt Farias followed with an RBI single.
MC sent 11 batters to the plate in the inning and pushed across three more runs to build a 7-1 lead.
“Once we got that one big hit, the floodgates opened,” said Farias, who was 2 for 3 with 3 RBI. “It felt like a big inning was coming, especially after Velazquez got us out of the bases-loaded jam with the lead.
“We knew it was our game to win after that.”
West Valley (22-14) got the scoring started in the first. Jason Brady led the game off with a double and moved up to third on a sacrifice bunt. Brady came home on a passed ball. MC answered in the bottom of the first with a Farias sacrifice fly. Farias cashed in a Rocha double in the fifth with an RBI groundout that made it 2-1.
The Vikings had their share of chances to get back into the game, but Velazquez and Josue Aguilar combined to hold them 0 for 11 with runners in scoring position. Aguilar retired all six batters he faced to end the game.
“We were having trouble early getting bunts down and executing like we can, but to be fair, that was as good a pitcher as we've faced all season,” MC head coach Chris Pedretti said. “We finally got some big hits in the seventh and were able to break it open.
“Derick did a great job of battling all day and then Josue came in and finished them off. “They're a good team. We know we're going to have our hands full (today), but this was a good way to start the series.”
MERCED COLLEGE 7, WEST VALLEY 1
At Blue Devil Field
West Valley 100 000 000 – 1 5 4
Merced College 100 010 50x – 5 9 3
Ryan Williams, Scott Rudolph (7), Jeremiah Sumagit (8) and Travis Bonner. Derick Velazquez, Josue Aguilar (8) and C.J. DeDeaux. WP – Velazquez 10-0. LP – Williams 8-4.
WEST VALLEY – Jason Brady 2B, Bonner 2B.
MERCED COLLEGE – Kirk Rocha 2B (2 R), Jake Barcellos 3-5 (2B, R, RBI), Matt Farias 2-3 (3 RBI).
Records: West Valley 22-14; Merced College 26-11.