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Canyons Still Alive in State Tournament

Times Staff Writer

Going into the state junior college baseball tournament, College of the Canyons Coach Mike Gillespie worried about his bullpen’s ability to hold a lead and his infielders’ ability to hold onto the ball.

In the Cougars’ second-round game against top-seeded Cerritos on Friday afternoon, 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 dramatic 5-4 win in John Euless Park.

Cerritos (37-5) will play Laney (31-9), an 18-8 winner Friday over Sacramento City, at 11 a.m. It will be a battle between the only undefeated teams left in the double-elimination tournament.

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The loss pushed Canyons (29-14) into a loser’s bracket game against Oxnard (27-11) on Beiden Field. Late Friday night, the score was 4-4 in the sixth inning.

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

In bottom of the ninth, pinch-hitter Kevin Evert led off with a 420-foot home run to dead center off Canyons reliever Greg Mayer to tie the score at 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.

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Canyons center fielder Tony Ciccone made a diving stab at Mack’s line drive, but the ball fell out of his glove when he hit the turf.

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

“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.”

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George Horton, Cerritos’ first-year coach, breathed a huge sigh of relief. In the Falcons’ opening-round win Thursday 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 finals.

“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 greatest 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 hit a shot to left-center that short-hopped the wall for a double.

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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.

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

Canyons added two runs in the top of the eighth against winning pitcher Dave Serrano (12-1). Mike Neighbors knocked in one run with a bases-loaded single off the wall in left 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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