Amid a four-team logjam within one game of the Orange Empire Conference lead, one would think Orange Coast College was dealing with enough competition. But the No. 1-ranked baseball team in Southern California found a way to add yet another opponent on Saturday: Itself.
The Pirates committed four errors that led to three unearned runs, made other poor decisions not reflected in the scorebook, and virtually wasted a chance to join a tie atop the OEC standings in an 8-6 loss to visiting Santa Ana.
The setback drops OCC (18-6, 6-4 in conference) from a three-way tie for second into sole possession of fourth place in the conference. Santa Ana (16-7, 7-3) joins defending champion Fullerton and Saddleback in a three-way tie for the lead, nearly halfway through the 21-game OEC schedule.
"We came in tied with Santa Ana, which is a good team and a good program," OCC Coach John Altobelli said. "I would have thought [OCC players] would have come in a little bit more hungry and more focused. In the first inning, we gave up three runs on not one ball hit out of the infield. I thought the guys did a good job battling back, but we just kept kind of shooting ourselves in the foot when we had chances to do some things."
The Dons, who OCC handled, 5-0, in the opening round of conference play on March 1, opened the game with an infield single, a walk and a bunt single to load the bases against starting pitcher Art Vidro, who came in 4-1.
Cleanup hitter Garrett Brown hit a soft bouncer to third baseman Ryan Perez, who clearly had a play at the plate to force the lead runner. But Perez dropped the ball on the exchange from his glove to his throwing hand and Philip Anderson scored on the error.
Daniel Martinez followed with a walk to plate another run and a third run scored on a double play to give the Dons, who were outhit, 14-11, the early edge.
For the second straight game, OCC leadoff man Cody Bruder opened the first inning with a triple, then scored on a groundout by L. Grant Davis. Singles by Cody Nulph and Tommy Bell and a walk to Chris Iriart loaded the bases with one out, but Perez hit into a double play to end the threat.
A double play short-circuited a potential OCC rally in the second and the Pirates stranded four more combined runners while scoring single runs in the third and fifth innings.
An error by OCC shortstop Jake Thumm, who normally plays third base but was shifted over to fill in for Nulph, who rested a balky throwing arm as the designated hitter, led to Santa Ana's unearned run in the fourth.
A throwing error by Davis in the seventh, as well as three hits and a walk, helped the visitors score three runs after OCC had pulled even, 4-4. And, after the hosts scored twice in the seventh on a two-run home run by sophomore right fielder Tommy Bell to pull within 7-6, Santa Ana added an insurance run in the ninth.
"We made bad decisions and four errors and they didn't make an error," Altobelli said. "I think they did enough to win and not beat themselves and I think we really beat ourselves. That [loss] stings a little bit."
OCC stranded nine, one more than the visitors.
Bell, who now has two homers this season, went three for three with three runs batted in to up his team-leading batting average to .462. His 24 RBIs trail only Iriart, who was two for four and posted his team-leading 27th RBI.
Nulph was three for four and scored twice, while Bruder and sophomore catcher Daniel Delaney also had two hits apiece for the Pirates.
Sophomore first baseman Ryan Aguilar was three for four with two RBIs and two runs scored to lead the attack for the Dons, who used six pitchers.
OCC visits Santa Ana on Tuesday at 2 p.m.
Orange Empire Conference
Santa Ana 8, Orange Coast 6
SCORE BY INNINGS
SAC 300 100 301 – 8 11 0
OCC 101 011 200 – 6 14 4
Wilkes, Ferrell (3), Avina (5), Brown (5), Grier (6), Franks (7) and Bistline; Vidro, Moran (7), Purpura (9), Reta (9) and Delaney. W – Grier, 1-0. L – Vidro, 4-2. Sv – Franks (5). 2B – Bell (OCC), Delaney (OCC). 3B – Bruder (OCC), G. Brown (SAC).