COSTA MESA — Heather Faith Beyer liked baseball and she liked to celebrate performance. On Saturday at Orange Coast College, Pirates pitcher Chad Thompson produced a performance that his late step-sister would have thoroughly enjoyed.
Just four days after Thompson attended a service at Newport Mesa Church for Beyer, who died April 30 after a 15-month battle with breast cancer, the 6-foot-8 freshman right-hander pitched arguably his best game of the season in a 3-0 win.
The victory over Allan Hancock (20-18) wrapped up a best-of-three sweep in the first round of the Southern California Regional playoffs, allowing the Pirates (30-8) to advance to next week's super regionals.
The Pirates, the No. 4 seed in Southern California, begin a four-team Super Regional Friday at Santa Ana. OCC will open against No. 7-seeded Santa Barbara (24-15), which defeated Riverside twice Saturday to win its best-of-three regional.
Santa Ana (26-13), the No. 3 seed that won the Orange Empire Conference over second-place OCC, plays No. 8-seeded Cerritos (24-14) in the other half of the double-elimination Santa Ana Super Regional.
Thompson who missed two practices earlier this week to be with his family, allowed three hits in 7 1/3 innings, his longest outing as a Pirate. Thompson, now 4-0, struck out six and walked three, before tiring under the burden of a season-high 111 pitches, not to mention an emotional week.
"I pitched for her, I pitched for myself and I pitched for the team," said the soft-spoken Thompson, a former El Toro High blue-chip prospect who missed nearly two years before returning this season from Tommy John surgery. "I didn't have my best stuff, but I pitched with what I had."
Thompson said he knew Beyer, 27 at the time of her passing, since he was 6 years old and that he and the former member of the Angel Strike Force — a spirit squad for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim — who also coached cheerleaders at Newport Harbor and Tesoro high schools, were close.
"It feels nice," Thompson said of his strong pitching effort, which combined with Jed Vandernaald and Josh Evans became the Pirates' second shutout of the season. It was the first shutout in 34 games for OCC.
"I wasn't worried [about Thompson] so much mentally as I was physically with his arm," OCC Coach John Altobelli said. "He's still dealing with [arm strength]. It looked like he wasn't loosening up too well before the game."
The OCC offense appeared similarly stiff for seven innings against left-handed starter Jordan Sechler .
A pair of one-out singles by Kevin Cho and Tristen Metcalf, followed by an infield error, gave the Pirates a 1-0 lead in the third inning.
That's how things stood into the eighth, when the designated visitors, though they were playing on their home diamond, used an RBI single by freshman first baseman Bryan Garza and a sacrifice fly by sophomore second baseman Zach Chavez to add two insurance runs.
It was the first RBI in 10 weeks for Garza, who was in his fourth game back after breaking his wrist in early February.
Chavez, who has missed nearly three weeks with a back problem, lifted the scoring fly ball to center as a pinch-hitter. It was his first RBI in a month.
Garza, who was two for four to join Cho (two for five) as Pirates with multiple hits, said Thompson's performance was inspiring.
"He's unbelievable," Garza said of Thompson, who lowered his earned-run average to 1.69. "Any time we get him up on the mound, we're always going to have a good chance to win.
"He knows we're there for him emotionally. He's our teammate. He's our brother, so we just back him up any way we can."
Evans, who earned the save in Friday's opener, entered with the bases loaded and one out in the eighth. He struck out the next hitter and ended the inning on a fly ball to center field.
A pair of singles and an error loaded the bases in the Hancock ninth, but Evans preserved the shutout for his seventh save of the season.
OCC, making its fifth straight postseason appearance, is 8-0 in four regionals during that streak. The Pirates lost the play-in game last season and did not advance to a regional.
Southern California Regionals
Orange Coast 3, Allan Hancock 0
SCORE BY INNINGS
OCC 001 000 020 – 3 7 1
AH 000 000 000 – 0 6 1
Thompson, Vandernaald (8), Evans (8) and Woodward; Sechler, Shrider (8) and Young. W – Thompson, 4-0. L – Sechler, 5-4. Sv – Evans (7).Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times