IRVINE — Like a good leading man, the Orange Coast College pitching staff refuses to be typecast.
But, despite a lack of clearly defined roles, the Pirates' pitching plot line thus far seems to offer the juiciest parts to its supporting cast. In the baseball vernacular: relievers.
Freshman right-hander Jed Vandernaald once again stepped from the bullpen into the spotlight to lead OCC to a 9-5 Orange Empire Conference victory at Irvine Valley on Tuesday.
Vandernaald, one of nine to have started at least one game for the Pirates (17-4, 3-3 in conference), allowed four hits and one run, while striking out seven in five innings to improve to 5-0.
Freshman Josh Evans recorded the final four outs for his fifth save, allowing starter Mike Smith (four earned runs, three hit batters, two walks, two hits and five strikeouts in 2 2/3 innings to at least feel good about the end result.
"We're trying to get guys locked into roles right now," OCC Coach John Altobelli said of a 12-man mound corps that has fashioned a combined earned-run average of 3.58. "But it's hard, because we have so many guys who are helter-skelter. One day they look good, then …. Smith didn't look real sharp today and he looked really good out of the bullpen [fanning four in 2 1/3 innings in a 5-4 home loss Saturday to Santa Ana]."
Vandernaald has easily been the Pirate's most consistent performer on the bump. In 25 2/3 innings, he has allowed two earned runs, 24 hits and has struck out 22. His ERA is 0.70.
Smith, who made his fourth start of the season, second most on the staff behind only sophomore Ryan Doran's six, was staked to a 5-0 lead after OCC scored twice in the second inning and added three in the third.
Smith stranded three and struck out four in his first two innings, including fanning the side in the second. And, after a leadoff single in the third, he induced a grounder to shortstop Austin Wobrock that appeared destined to be a double play.
But after Wobrock tossed to second baseman Lance Chavez to get the lead runner, Chavez threw errantly to first. The miscue, though not among the Pirates' four errors, opened the door to a four-run rally. All four runs were charged to Smith.
"We had too many freebies on our part," Altobelli said of a defense that also turned in some sterling plays.
Center fielder Scott Cho threw a strike to catcher Blake Hugaert, who tagged out a runner trying to score from second on a single to end IVC's third inning. And Wobrock went to a knee with a backhand stab deep in the hole, then rose and threw crisply to first to rob a Laser of a hit to open the IVC sixth.
Offensively, OCC overcame some ineffective situational hitting by bashing 15 hits. They strung together four straight singles in the second inning and a Trent Woodward double was followed by singles from Matt Moynihan and Jordan Beck in the third.
Beck went four for five with a double and one RBI, while sophomore third baseman Colton Hamill was two for four with three RBIs to lead an OCC attack that had five players produce at least two hits.
Wobrock was two four five with one RBI, while Moynihan and Woodward went two for four and two for five, respectively. Moynihan scored three times.
Freshman left fielder Chris Carlson had a single and drove in a run, while Chavez and Cho added hits for the winners. Cho and Carlson also had two walks apiece.
The win halted a two-game losing streak for OCC, which has lost three of its previous four.
"Every win is a big win in this conference," said Altobelli, who indicated that freshman Chad Thompson, a highly touted, 6-foot-8 right-hander who has not allowed a run in five innings, spanning three relief appearances since returning from Tommy John surgery, will start Thursday's OEC game against visiting Riverside.
"We're going to have him on a pitch limit and we'll see what happens," said Altobelli, who will also have plenty of talented arms waiting in the wings.
Orange Empire Conference
Orange Coast 9, Irvine Valley 5
SCORE BY INNINGS
OCC 023 100 102 – 9 15 4
IVC 004 000 100 – 5 7 4