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Community College Baseball : Canyons Exposes Its Weaknesses, Fails to Hold Off Cerritos’ Rally

Times Staff Writer

What Mike Gillespie, College of the Canyons coach, feared most going into this weekend’s state championship tournament was the inability of his bullpen to hold a lead and his infielders to hold onto the ball.

And Friday afternoon, in the Cougars’ second-round game against top-seeded Cerritos, Gillespie’s worst fears were realized.

Three Canyons relievers couldn’t preserve a late, three-run lead and shortstop Don Erickson made a crucial error in the ninth inning as Cerritos rallied for a 5-4 win in John Euless Park.

The Falcons (37-5) will play Laney (31-9), an 18-8 winner over Sacramento City Friday, in a battle between the only undefeated teams remaining in the double-elimination tournament at 11 o’clock today.

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Canyons’ loss to Cerritos forced the Cougars (29-14) into a loser’s bracket game against Oxnard (27-11) on Beiden Field that was still in progress late Friday night with Canyons ahead, 7-4, in the seventh inning.

Canyons starting pitcher Frank Halcovich led Cerritos, 4-1, going into the bottom of the eighth inning when the Falcons got two runs and knocked the freshman right-hander out of the game.

Then, in bottom of the ninth, pinch-hitter Kevin Evert led off with a 420-foot home run to dead center field off Canyons reliever Greg Mayer to tie the score, 4-4. Two walks and one out later, Erickson misplayed pinch-hitter Carlos Gonzalez’s ground ball to load the bases.

Charlie Perrault, who succeeded Rick Young and losing pitcher Mayer (3-1) to the mound for Canyons, struck out the South Coast Conference’s Player of the Year, Scott Wilkinson, for the second out, but then allowed a game-ending single to Quinn Mack. Mack’s line drive just eluded Canyons center fielder Tony Ciccone, who made a diving attempt at the ball but had it fall out of his glove when he hit the turf.

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In his 15-year career at Canyons, Gillespie has absorbed some tough losses, but none, he said, tougher than against Cerritos, which holds a 3-1 series edge over the Cougars this season.

“That was devastating and heartbreaking because we had played so well most of the game,” he said. “But, because we battled so hard, it isn’t any less frustrating.

“We’re in real trouble in this tournament now. We used four pitchers in the first game today, so the rest of the way we’ll just have to run whoever can throw out there.”

George Horton, Cerritos’ first-year coach, breathed a huge sigh of relief. Thursday, in the Falcons’ opening-round win over College of Marin, he had used second-line pitchers. Against Canyons, Horton started little-used John Agundez and again escaped with a win while saving left-handers Al Osuna (10-1) and John Rodriguez (7-1) for the semifinals and final.

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“Having two rested pitchers left for the final rounds of the tournament is why we did what we did,” Horton said. “If we get out of Osuna and Rodriguez what we usually get out of them, we should win the championship.

“Today was one of the great games I’ve ever been involved in, and I’ve been involved in a lot of good games. When you have teams play as well as they did today with as much at stake as there was, that really says something about the teams.”

The game was scoreless until the fourth when Canyons got to Agundez for two runs. Erickson led off with a walk and went to third when Bill Bluhm short-hopped the wall in left-center field with a double.

Erickson scored on a sacrifice fly by Halcovich as Falcon center fielder Wilkinson made a poor throw to the plate that carried several feet up the third-base line. Bill Carlson then drove in Bluhm with a single to left.

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Halcovich, whom Horton said pitched better than anyone else had against his team all year, showed signs of tiring in the bottom of the fourth when he walked three batters. Cerritos, however, could get only one run. Craig Worthington scored on a sacrifice fly by Tony Trevino on a drive to right field that the Cougars’ Bill Carlson made a nice catch on at the wall.

Canyons added two runs in the top of the eighth against eventual winning pitcher Dave Serrano (12-1). Mike Neighbors drove in one run with a bases-loaded single off the left-field wall and the other run scored on a ground out.

Cerritos scored twice in the bottom of the inning with two outs. Worthington hit his ninth home run of the season and second in two games. Mack, who was 3 for 4, capped the rally with an RBI single.


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