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Vanacore Lifts Pierce Into 2nd Round

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Had Elvis Presley held an impromptu concert at home plate, it would have been only the second most amazing comeback Saturday at the Pierce College baseball field.

It could not have topped Pierce’s triumph over College of the Desert in the best-of-three first round of the Southern California regional. Pierce not only overcame a one-game deficit with a sweep, but also came from behind in both games to do so.

Pierce won the first game, 13-10, after trailing by six runs, then erased a one-run eighth-inning deficit to win the second, 6-5, in the bottom of the ninth.

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“We had a lot of heroes,” said Pierce co-Coach Bob Lofrano, whose team fell to Desert, 12-7, Friday. “Lots of kids really stepped forward today.”

Pierce’s victories were highlighted by memorable performances from a pair of unlikely standouts. Danny Rodriguez, who could not remember the last time he pitched (it was April 13), won both games. And Mike Vanacore, whose teammates could not remember the last time he homered (it was in the summer of 1989 in an American Legion game), hit a solo home run in each game, driving in go-ahead runs in both.

In the first game, Pierce came back from an 8-3 deficit to tie the score, 8-8, in the sixth inning before Vanacore capped the rally with a high, hooking homer to left.

Pierce entered the final inning of the second game tied, 5-5, when Vanacore led off the ninth with a similar home run on the second pitch of the inning.

“Their season is over on a 1-0 pitch with a little runt at the plate,” Lofrano said. “You can’t believe how much we kid him in practice about not being able to hit one over.”

Vanacore (5-foot-7, 140 pounds) has less power than a night light. So unaccustomed to hitting home runs was Vanacore, he was not sure the first one was going out. But the second was different. “I had a better feel on that,” he said. “I felt I hit it higher.”

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Rodriguez, a hard-throwing freshman left-hander, kept Desert from pulling away in both games. Rodriguez (3-3) retired three of four batters he faced in the first game and faced the minimum six batters in the final two innings of the second game.

“I felt really confident going out on the hill,” said Rodriguez, who had missed a couple of weeks recently with a sore shoulder. “I had my best stuff today.”

With the sweep, fifth-seeded Pierce (23-13) advances to the second round of the Southern California regional, which begins Friday at Harbor. Pierce is tentatively scheduled to play Citrus in the first game of the four-team double-elimination setup. Harbor and Cypress are tentatively matched in the other opener.

Pierce, however, was in serious trouble after four innings of the first game Saturday. Desert’s Tom Baggett held Pierce hitless for the first 4 2/3 innings, and Desert led, 6-0, after four.

“If there was a time to do the el foldo , it was then,” Lofrano said. “We were not playing quality baseball by any means. That was more frustrating than the score.”

Pierce scored three runs in the fifth, but 12th-seeded Desert (31-15), which was considered the home team in the opener, pushed the lead back to 8-3 in the bottom of the fifth.

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Pierce took the lead for good with six runs in the sixth. Glenn Nahmias smashed a two-run double off the fence in left, and Ricky Banuelos followed with a run-scoring single. Both scored on a wild pitch, and Vanacore’s home run made it 9-8.

With two out in the eighth, Desert reliever Don Simonette suddenly became wild, walking three consecutive batters. Joe Arnold and Pat Huston then hit two-run singles to put Pierce ahead, 13-8.

Pierce’s Louis Birdt allowed one earned run in the final 3 2/3 innings to pick up his 11th save.

In the second game, Pierce took an early lead for the first time in the series. Vanacore, who had four hits in the doubleheader, came home on a passed ball in the first inning, and Carl McFadden scored on Glenn Nahmias’ ground out in the second. Three Desert errors helped Pierce score two more in the third and take a 4-1 lead.

Desert chased Pierce starter Denny Sharp with three runs in the sixth and moved ahead, 5-4, on Trent Hauswirth’s solo home run, his third of the series, in the seventh.

McFadden opened the Pierce eighth with a double and tied the score, 5-5, when he cruised home on Erik Martinez’s sacrifice fly, setting the stage for Vanacore.

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