Down for an 8 Count, Pierce Delivers a KO

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Pierce College baseball Coach Bob Lofrano could have spent an hour explaining how his team overcame an eight-run deficit en route to a 12-11 victory over visiting San Bernardino Valley in the first round of the Southern California junior college regional Friday.

But when it comes to the state playoffs, one sentence sums it up.

"At this time of the year," Lofrano said, "the bottom line is the 'W' or the 'L.' "

Ricky Banuelos doubled home Robby Welles in the bottom of the eighth to break an 11-11 tie. Pierce (29-6-1), the top-seeded team in the 16-school Southern California regional, can advance to the regional finals with a win in today's 11 a.m. game against the Indians (21-17) at Pierce.

Should Pierce lose, a third and deciding game would be played immediately after the first contest.

After 3 1/2 hours of less-than-aesthetic baseball Friday, few were in the mood to dissect the game too carefully. But if they had, the player in the middle of it all would have been Banuelos, a hard-nosed sophomore shortstop from Canoga Park High.

In the seventh inning the 5-foot-11, 155-pound Banuelos, representing the potential tying run, introduced himself to 6-2, 195-pound Indian catcher Eric Selby in a collision that nearly started a bench-clearing brawl.

An inning later, Banuelos had the final word with a double down the third-base line to cap an improbable Pierce comeback.

Pierce showed the effects of a nearly two-week layoff as 16th-seeded San Bernardino Valley opened an 11-3 lead after 5 1/2 innings.

"We had them," said Steven Garcia, who had one of San Bernardino Valley's two homers against Pierce starter Mike Eby. "But we couldn't close the door."

In reality, San Bernardino Valley kicked the door open for Pierce, fueling the Brahmas' comeback with five errors and 10 walks.

The rally began with one out in the sixth when Jeff Acuna made a bad throw on a Banuelos grounder to start a six-run Pierce uprising. After Adam Pearlman doubled, Erik Martinez (two for four) ripped a two-run single to get things started.

Jason Cohen (two for four), Welles and Brian Smith (two for four, four RBIs) also drove in runs to chase starter Carlos Heredia.

Pierce tied the score, 11-11, in the seventh. With Pearlman on third and Paul Geller on first, Pearlman broke for home and scored when Selby threw the ball into center field trying to get Geller.

After Smith and Welles walked to start the eighth, Banuelos followed an unsuccessful sacrifice bunt by Josh Smaler with his double.

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