Community College Baseball: OCC begins Super Regional play

Orange Coast College Coach John Altobelli said the new playoff format that features three best-of-three weekend series before the four-team, double-elimination state championship tournament forces baseball teams to adapt to a schedule used more comfortably in football.

In football parlance, the Pirates are much more physical than Allan Hancock, which visits for the Super Regional round beginning Friday at 2 p.m.

OCC (29-9) is the No. 1 seed in the California Community College Athletic Assn. Southern California bracket, and is on an eight-game winning streak.

The Santa Maria-based Bulldogs (24-14-1) are the No. 13 seed. They upset No. 4-seeded Palomar by winning the final two games of their regional series at Palomar on Saturday.

On paper, its at least as big a mismatch as the seedings indicate.

OCC, co-champion of the Orange Empire Conference, ranks first in the state in home runs (19) and staff earned-run average (1.85) and ranks fifth with a team batting average of .311. During its current winning streak, it has outscored opponents, 74-15.

Hancock, 13-13-1 since opening the season 9-1, including a 10-10 mark to finish tied for third in the six-team Western State Conference North Division, has just two home runs this season (70th in the state) and has struck out 280 times (third most in the state). The Bulldogs are hitting .269 as a team and their staff ERA is 3.16, which ranks 32nd in California.

OCC is led by Orange Empire Co-Pitchers of the Year David and Jacob Hill, sophomore identical twins who are a combined 19-1, as well as OEC Player of the Year Cody Nulph, a sophomore shortstop.

David Hill (9-1 with a 1.22 ERA) will start Friday's game. The sophomore right-hander, who was the Sunday starter at Long Beach State in 2013 and will accompany his brother to the University of San Diego next season, has allowed only 76 hits and struck out 97 in 95 2/3 innings. His strikeout total ranks fourth in the state.

Jacob Hill, a sophomore left-hander, is 10-0 with a 1.33 ERA with 46 hits allowed and 54 strikeouts in 61 innings. Altobelli chose to rest Jacob Hill during the regional series and would like to do so again against Hancock. But if a third game is necessary, Altobelli said Jacob Hill, who has had arm fatigue but no specific injury, will make his 10th start of the season on Sunday.

Nulph, bound for Auburn, is batting .401 with one home run, 25 runs batted in and a team-best 35 runs. His team-leading 15 doubles help him share the team lead in extra-base hits with sophomore leadoff man and center fielder Cody Bruder.

Sophomore first baseman Chris Iriart shares the state lead with eight homers and tops the team with 38 RBIs while hitting .312.

Freshman right fielder Tommy Bell, a first-team all-conference performer, leads the team and is third in the state with a .425 batting average. Bell has four homers, 36 RBIs and 16 extra-base hits, helping OCC outnumber the Bulldogs, 110-64, in that department.

Bruder, another first-team All-OEC choice, is batting .367 with two homers and 25 RBIs.

Daniel Delaney, a sophomore catcher (.287), is another first-team all-conference honoree.

Other notables on the mound for OCC are freshman lefty Art Vidro, the projected Saturday starter who is 5-2 with a 2.72 ERA, as well as relievers Spencer Moran (two wins, two saves and a 2.97 ERA in 36 1/3 innings) and Dominic Purpura (just two earned runs allowed in 20 1/3 innings for an 0.89 ERA).

Hancock, which ranks No. 6 in the state with 181 walks collected, is paced offensively by sophomore catcher Ryan Welker (.348 with 18 RBIs and a team-best 10 stolen bases) and sophomore infielder Ryan Bendele (.341 with 21 RBIs and seven steals). Bendele was a first-team all-conference performer.

Hancock sophomore starting pitchers Ryan Bower (7-4 with a 2.18 ERA) and Nathan Thompson (6-3 with a 2.11 ERA) were both all-conference choices.

Freshman lefty reliever Henry Fienga earned both wins against Palomar with 5 1/3 combined shutout innings.

The Super Regional winner advances to the sectional round, another best-of-three series May 16-18.

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