COSTA MESA — Orange Coast College baseball coach John Altobelli didn't like the vibe from the start. And over the first seven innings of the Pirates' final Orange Empire Conference meeting with first-place Sana Ana, there wasn't much to alter his uneasiness.
But, as this team usually does, it found a way to leave Altobelli smiling when the dust had settled on a dramatic 11-9 OCC victory that helps keep its conference title hopes alive.
The Pirates (26-6, 12-5 in conference), ranked No. 1 in Southern California, scored six runs on eight hits in the eighth inning to reverse a 9-5 deficit and win for the first time in three meetings against the No. 3-ranked Dons (20-9, 13-4).
Freshman Mitch Maltby worked 2 1/3 innings of scoreless relief to earn his first collegiate win and sophomore Ryan Doran, who started and lost Saturday's 5-1 verdict at Santa Ana, got the final two outs for his second save. Doran also started and lost the first meeting with the Dons this season.
The late pitching success for OCC was in sharp contrast to the work of its first four hurlers, all of whom gave up at least two runs, as the visitors scored at least one run in six straight innings after a scoreless first.
"The pitching was absolutely horrible," Altobelli said. "We had eight walks and three hit batters. Those are just too many freebies to give the first-place team. You can't do that. But the nice thing was, the guys kept hanging in, kept hanging in, kept hanging in, then all of a sudden, bang, bang, bang."
The big bang of which Altobelli spoke came in the eighth inning, when six singles, two doubles and two sacrifice flies helped OCC complete its second remarkable comeback in the last 17 days.
OCC rallied for five runs in the ninth to tie Cypress on March 26, then won, 7-6, in 11 innings.
Third baseman Colton Hamill and shortstop Austin Wobrock began the rally with singles and Slater Davies, filling in for injured sophomore second baseman Zach Chavez, who is sitting out with a bulging disc, doubled to left-center field to drive in a run and bring the potential tying run to the plate.
Center fielder Scott Cho, the first hitter to face Ruben Orosco, a UC Irvine bounce-back who had started and won the first two games against OCC, plated Wobrock with a scoring fly ball to left.
Left fielder Chris Carlson followed with a single and right fielder Matt Moynihan looped a hustle double to left-center field to pull the Pirates within 9-8.
First baseman Jordan Beck greeted Santa Ana closer Garrett Wilson by lining a 3-2 slider into left field for an RBI single to tie the score.
Catcher Trent Woodward followed with a single to center to put the Pirates up, 10-9, and a sacrifice fly by designated hitter Eilert Meyers finalized the scoring.
Altobelli, though energized, was almost apologetic about the win, which leaves his second-place team one game behind Santa Ana with four conference games remaining. Riverside lost to visiting Cypress Tuesday to fall one game behind OCC.
"I didn't like our tempo from the first inning," Altobelli said. "It's baseball, it really is. As much as they probably thought they had this win in the bag and despite our vibe over here, you never know."
Woodward, among five Pirates with at least three hits, said the comeback was neither novel nor unexpected.
"We have a great chemistry," Woodward said. "We never give up. We have this fight in us that's amazing. It's awesome.
"We have this confidence in the late innings and we know we're going to get our runs. We have that mentality that we're going to get ours. As long as we stay in the game, we're very confident."
Moynihan paced OCC's 19-hit attack by going four for five. He scored twice and drove in one.
Beck and Woodward were each three for four with two RBIs, while Carlson and Hamill were three for five. Beck scored three times.
Santa Ana pitchers issued three walks and did not hit a batter. All OCC runs were earned and they stranded nine.
OCC's three errors led to three unearned runs and the Dons left 14 runners holding the bag.
It was the 10th time OCC has scored double-digit runs, only the fourth time a Santa Ana opponent has scored as many as 10.
Orange Empire Conference
Orange Coast 11, Santa Ana 9
SCORE BY INNINGS
SA 011 213 100 – 9 13 1
OCC 000 120 26x – 11 19 3
Garrett, Smith (5), Brattvet (7), Orosco (8), Wilson (8) and Recio; Vandernaald, Smith (4), Schmidt (5), Evans (6), Maltby (7), Doran (9). W – Maltby, 1-0. L – Orosco, 6-3. Sv – Doran (2). 2B – Garcia (SA), Recio (SA) 2, Solley (SA), Carlson (OCC), Moynihan (OCC), Woodward (OCC) 2, Davies (OCC).