Early Thursday night, it looked as George Horton was going to lose his big gamble.
The Cerritos College coach decided to start little-used Kurt Hoffman in the opening round of the state championship tournament and save ace pitchers Dave Serrano, Al Osuna and John Rodriguez for the later rounds.
Hoffman lasted only 2 innings as the Falcons, the top-seeded team in the tournament, fell behind College of Marin, 2-0.
But Hoffman’s replacement, Dave Olson, who has been used even less frequently, was much more effective. He threw 5 innings of one-run relief to get a win in his first decision of the year as Cerritos rallied to defeat the Mariners, 8-3, on Fresno State’s Beiden Field.
Cerritos (36-5) will play College of the Canyons (28-13), a 10-6 winner over Mission College of Santa Clara, in a second-round game today in John Euless Park at 3 p.m.
Horton, who is in his first year as the Falcon coach, said that he believed all along that his second-line pitchers would do the job.
“We took a chance, but we have confidence in all our pitchers,” he said. “I know they (Hoffman and Olson) were nervous, but that’s understandable. They’re 18 or 19 years, and this tournament is a big thing for them and our team.
“I’m so proud of Olson. He may not be as polished as our other guys, but he throws the stuff it takes to win, and he proved it tonight.”
The Falcons, who are seeking their seventh state title, tied the score with two runs in the second and came back from a 3-2 deficit in the third with another run before taking the lead for good with a three-run fourth inning.
With one out, Tony Trevino singled, stole second and scored on an error by Marin third baseman Nelson Fugiwara, who booted Bill Mosiello’s ground ball. Mosiello scored on a double by Mike Benjamin, and Craig Worthington knocked losing pitcher Craig Solon (4-1) out of the game with an RBI double off the left-field wall that made it 6-3.
Cerritos, the South Coast Conference champion, added insurance runs in the fifth and seventh innings, but Olson, a sophomore from Norwalk High School, didn’t need them. The right-hander didn’t allow a run after the fourth inning.
Tony Rico pitched a scoreless ninth inning for the Falcons.
The Golden Valley Conference champion Mariners (23-16) were less than impressive, especially on defense as they committed six errors. Fugiwara made three and second baseman Nate Reynes made two, leading to two unearned runs by Cerritos.
Ever Magallanes had three hits for Cerritos, including a two-run triple in the second inning. Craig Worthington had two hits, including his ninth home run in the third inning.