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Community College Regional Baseball Playoffs : Rancho Santiago Tops San Bernardino; State Tournament Next

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When the line drive left the bat of Rancho Santiago College’s Bob Brucato in the fourth inning Sunday, it was headed directly at San Bernardino Valley right fielder Eric Peterson.

But Peterson decided to come up a step. And another. And one more.

By then, the ball had sailed over his head and was rolling toward the fence. Brucato was charitably credited with a two-run triple that broke a 3-3 tie and led the Dons to a 9-5 victory at San Bernardino and a sweep of the best-of-three state community college regional playoff series.

Rancho Santiago (30-8), which had not been to the state playoffs since 1952, advanced to next weekend’s state championship tournament at Long Beach.

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Peterson’s mistake wasn’t the only one by the Inland Valley Conference champion Indians (33-11), who lost Saturday’s opener, 14-7, despite hitting four home runs.

Earlier in the fourth, losing pitcher Jeff Imbriani (3-3) walked Mitch Swalley, the Dons’ No. 9 hitter, and Frank Appice, after two outs. The walks were converted into two runs on Peterson’s misplay.

In the fifth, San Bernardino Valley ace Chuck Lavrusky, working in relief of Imbriani, got the first two outs before giving up singles to Brent Reese and Chris Chase. Then Swalley, who had only one home run in the regular season, hit a 3-2 pitch for a three-run home run to left, giving Rancho Santiago, the second-place finisher in the South Coast Conference, a comfortable 8-3 lead.

Finally, in the eighth inning with a run in, two on, two out and a 3-2 count on Carlos Contreras, Indian pinch-runner Jeff McDonald was picked off second base by Don reliever Wayne Gilles. Gilles fooled McDonald so badly that he was able to sprint off the mound and make the tag himself.

To make things even more frustrating for San Bernardino Valley Coach Stan Sanchez, Contreras singled to lead off the ninth.

“Everything seemed to go wrong for us,” Sanchez said. “But that’s baseball. Sometimes, it can really be a cruel game.”

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Swalley was thinking the same thing when he woke up Sunday morning. Saturday, the Don center fielder hit his right knee on the fence when he unsuccessfully tried to take a home run away from Mark Farr. It hurt then, and the knee swelled and became even more painful overnight.

“The coaches told me they weren’t going to let me play if it hurt, so I told them that it didn’t,” Swalley said while taping the knee after the game. “But it really did. I faked a couple of sprints before the game so they’d start me.”

Rancho Santiago Coach Don Sneddon is glad he did. Swalley went 2 for 3 with three RBIs, two runs and, bad knee and all, even managed to steal a base. Brucato added three hits in five at-bats and scored twice.

Chris Shiflett earned the victory to improve his record to 7-2, but not without a struggle. Battling the heat and smog in addition to the San Bernardino Valley lineup, he allowed six hits and four walks in seven innings before being replaced by Gilles, who earned his third save.

Usually, the Dons are a good defensive team. But on Sunday they made four errors, two coming on the same play in the sixth inning. With a runner at first, second baseman Steve Scarsone cleanly fielded John Nagy’s ground ball but overthrew shortstop Matt Beltran trying to get a force. Then left fielder Frank Appice picked up the ball and made an errant toss of his own to put runners on second and third with no outs and the score 8-4.

However, Shiflett got Rick Housley to hit into a force play, Beltran to third baseman Dave Kirkpatrick, and induced the speedy Kenny Davis to hit into a double play to end the threat.

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