Yuma, Arizona - Arizona Western College announced that two members of the AWC Baseball team have signed their official letters of intent to attend four-year universities this fall, and play baseball next spring. Matadors’ pitcher Kahana Neal (kah-HAH-nuh) and 3rd baseman/pitcher Claudio Valencia (KLOW-dee-oh vuh-LEHN-see-uh) have both signed with University of the Cumberlands, an NAIA school in Williamsburg, Kentucky.
The announcements come two months after the two made their final appearances in the cardinal and gold jerseys of the Matador Baseball team in the Region I Playoffs.
With a squad that sported a new coach and an overhaul of the previous season’s roster, the Matador Baseball team needed sophomore leadership from the pitching staff to stake to some wins early in the season. They got that and much more from Kahana Neal. A native of Pearl City, Hawaii, Neal was the only starting pitcher left from the 2011 season, and one of only two members of the 2011 staff overall that was back for 2012. Neal had gone 5-5 with a 2.87 earned run average as a freshman, and had shown flashes of brilliance throughout his freshman campaign, but no one expected the kind of year that he would enjoy as a sophomore. He set the tone in the Matadors’ very first game of 2012, allowing 17th-ranked Salt Lake just one earned run on two hits over 7 innings to get the Matadors the win, and he never let up from there. Neal won four of his first five decisions, and was named ACCAC Division I Pitcher of the Week twice during the season. He allowed more than 3 earned runs just twice in his 15 starts, and never went less than five innings in any of those appearances in 2012. In six of those starts, Neal didn’t allow a single earned run, and he posted shutouts against both of the defending Region I Champion teams, Division I Champion Central Arizona and Division II Champion Gateway. He was the Matadors’ top pitcher from start to finish, and it was appropriate that it was Neal who was on the hill when the Matadors clinched their first Region I Playoff berth in six years in late April. Neal earned his 10th win of the season that day, making one of only two pitchers in the conference to reach that plateau this season. Neal finished with a 10-3 mark overall, and his 2.55 earned run average placed him 7th-best in the ACCAC in that category. He also led the team in strikeouts (63) while throwing a team-high 99 innings. Not surprisingly, Neal was named 1st Team All-Region I & 1st Team All-ACCAC following the season.
For Neal to be as successful as he was, he needed his defense to back him up well, and at the top of that list was Claudio Valencia. After spending his freshman year of college baseball playing at Imperial Valley College in California, Valencia-a Yuma native-decided to come back home for his sophomore campaign. Valencia won the Matadors’ starting 3rd base job during ‘fall ball’ this past year, and never relinquished it throughout the spring. Valencia was a master of robbing speedy opposing baserunners of infield hits with his powerful throws to first base, and his range turned many line drives that seemed bound for left field become line drive outs. The Kofa High alum was also a stalwart at the plate, hitting .307 with 3 home runs (including one in the Region I Playoffs against Yavapai) and a team-leading 37 runs batted in. He also was one of the stingiest Matadors on the mound, since he took over as the team’s closer early in the season, and wound up leading the team with 4 saves. He finished with a 1-1 record, and didn’t allow a single earned run in 10 innings of work (while striking out 12 batters).
The two will now join a Patriots’ baseball program that has won three Mid-South Conference Championships in the last nine years. Cumberlands finished 26-28 while qualifying for the MSC postseason tournament this past May.