With six freshman pitchers on the staff, Mission College baseball Coach John Klitsner went into the season wondering who would step forward and become the team's ace.
It didn't take long for right-hander Ray Rivera to claim that title and he keeps proving that he deserves it.
Rivera, from San Fernando High, pitched his seventh complete game of the season Wednesday as the Free Spirit beat Los Angeles City, 3-1, in a Southern California Athletic Conference game at Mission.
The victory, the third in a row for Mission (20-13, 12-6 in conference play) over L.A. City, allowed the Free Spirit to move within one-half game of first-place Cerro Coso (12-5).
Rivera (10-2), who limited the Cubs to five hits, struck out four and walked none. He allowed only an unearned run, lowering his ERA to 2.22.
"(Rivera) is as good a competitor as there is and, to go with it, he's a good pitcher," Klitsner said. "He loves to compete and in a big game he rises to that level of competition."
For a while Wednesday, however, it seemed as if Rivera's competitiveness would be wasted.
The Free Spirit stranded 11 runners in the first six innings against right-hander Andrew Settle (5-6), including three in the first, and could not produce the key hit that would have made Rivera's life easier.
But Mission, trailing, 1-0, finally broke through with three runs in the seventh to chase Settle, who had managed to frustrate despite giving up seven hits, walking six and hitting four batters.
With one out in the seventh, left fielder Derrick Ornelas was hit by a pitch and center fielder Gary Matthews followed with a single to right field. Designated hitter Francisco Flores knocked in both runners with a long single to the center-field fence.
Settle then retired second baseman John Toven on a fly to center but shortstop Rene Rodriguez tripled down the right-field line to drive in Flores.
Reliever Enrique Garcia walked the next two batters, catcher Joey Gandara and right fielder Jesus Perez, to load the bases. He was replaced by Marvin Cobos, who was bailed out of the inning by catcher Tony Aguilar and second baseman Ernie Diaz.
Aguilar caught Gandara straying too far from second base and threw to Diaz, who gunned the ball back to Aguilar when Rodriguez tried to score on the throw to second.
It was the third time in four innings that a Mission runner was thrown out at home to end an inning.
With one out and the bases loaded in the fourth, Toven tried to score from third on a fly ball to left by third baseman Dave Valdez but was nailed at the plate on a perfect relay throw from third baseman Brendan Cowsill to Aguilar.
An inning later, first baseman Rob Wally tried to score from first base with two out when Victor Cortez dropped a fly ball by Flores but was out on another relay throw home by Cowsill.
L.A. City scored in the first when shortstop Al Watson led off the game with a single to left and reached second when left fielder Derrick Ornelas bobbled the ball. He moved to third on a groundout and scored on a sacrifice fly to left by Diaz.