COSTA MESA — When Orange Coast College lost three out of four Orange Empire Conference games after opening the baseball season 15-1, there was little panic in the Pirates' dugout.
Part of the justification for such calm was the presence of 6-foot-8 right-hander Chad Thompson, who was just starting to round back into shape after a long recovery from Tommy John surgery on May 1, 2009.
Thompson, who signed with Arizona State as a senior at El Toro High, was expected to be a high draft pick that June. But he was injured early his senior season and dropped to the 17th round, where the Yankees selected him with the 525th overall pick.
Thompson made his first start for the Pirates Thursday and worked into the fourth before reaching a conservative pitch count set for him by pitching coach Dave Bowman. And though he did not record the win in the Pirates' 10-4 triumph over conference visitor Riverside, Thompson displayed some of the ability that allowed him to dominate as a prep.
In three varsity seasons, he went 18-3 with a 1.19 earned-run average. He struck out 175 and allowed 87 hits in 129 innings. As junior, he went 12-3 with a 1.28 ERA and helped the Chargers win the CIF Southern Section Division II title. He won his team's first four playoff games that season and was named CIF Division II MVP.
He began his senior season 4-0, before being sidelined and undergoing elbow ligament replacement.
"I had been kind of rooting for him to start," said OCC Coach John Altobelli, who had seen Thompson make three relief appearances spanning five innings before Thursday. "I thought he was better off [starting] than coming out of the bullpen. So, we thought we'd give him a shot and we thought he did a nice job."
Thompson allowed two hits and two walks in 3 1/3 innings. He struck out three and did not allow an earned run. His ERA remains 0.00, but his ceiling, and potential impact on the Pirates' conference title hopes, could be astronomical.
Thursday's win, which Altobelli termed "by far our best all-around game," allowed the Pirates (18-4, 4-3 in conference) to pull within one game of second-place Riverside (12-8, 5-2). Santa Ana, which has won 10 straight, tops the conference at 7-0 following the first of three rounds.
Sophomore Ryan Doran finished up for Thompson to earn the win and improve to 4-2. He surrendered three runs on five hits.
But pitching was not the only strong point for the Pirates.
"Our hitters did a great job, our pitchers did a nice job and we had good defense," Altobelli said.
Six Pirates had at least two hits, led by freshman designated hitter Tristen Metcalf, who was three for five with two runs batted in.
Freshman left fielder Chris Carlson hit a three-run home run in the first in the middle of five straight hits to open the game for the hosts. He was two for four with two runs scored.
Sophomore right fielder Matt Moynihan was two for four with one RBI, two runs and three stolen bases, while freshman shortstop Austin Wobrock, a Newport Harbor High product, was two for four with two steals.
Sophomore second baseman Zach Chavez was two for four with one RBI and two runs and sophomore shortstop Jordan Beck was two for five.
Freshman catcher Trent Woodward and sophomore center fielder Scott Cho also contributed to the 15-hit attack for OCC, which is averaging 8.5 runs, 11.2 hits and is batting .318 as a team.
Thompson said he still has some muscle soreness, but starting allowed him to get into his old routine.
"It felt great," he said of his first start in nearly two years. "I'm still working to get my split-finger pitch back."
With Thompson back in the starting rotation, OCC has a chance to rise in the standings.
"After the first round, we've seen everybody and no one scares us," Altobelli said. "If we take care of the ball and take care of ourselves, we're usually going to be on top. I like our team. My players are battlers, they compete and they like each other."
Orange Empire Conference
Orange Coast 10, Riverside 4
SCORE BY INNINGS
RCC 001 012 000 – 4 8 2
OCC 401 200 21x- 10 15 1
Mejia, Mack (3), Clark (5), McNutt (7), Thompson (8), Mudron (8) and Ponce; Thompson, Doran (4) and Woodward. W – Doran, 3-2. L – Mejia, 1-2. 2B – Chavez (OCC), Kiriakos (RCC), Moynihan (OCC). HR – Carlson (OCC), Gota (RCC), Torres (RCC).