SANTA ANA — Whatever the Orange Coast College baseball team lacks in talent, it usually makes up for with imagination.
Friday’s dramatic 9-8 victory over Santa Barbara in the first round of the four-team state Super Regional at Santa Ana College reaffirmed the Pirates (31-8) have ample supplies of both.
OCC, which has won a handful of games this season with late rallies, sometimes erasing sizable leads in doing so, faced deficits of 6-0 and 8-4, the latter entering the bottom of the ninth.
But the designated home team rallied for four in the ninth, then won it on a one-out, walk-off, solo home run by freshman left fielder Chris Carlson to spark an emotional postgame celebration.
The win also put the Pirates, into Saturday’s winner’s bracket game at 11 a.m. against host Santa Ana (28-12), which defeated Cerritos, 12-3, in the first game of the double-elimination tournament Friday.
Santa Ana won two of three against OCC this season to edge the Pirates for the Orange Empire Conference title.
OCC never lost its edge against the Vaqueros (24-16), who appeared quite at home in the program’s inaugural appearance in a super regional.
Santa Barbara leadoff hitter Robert Vickers, who came in with 11 runs batted in in 27 games and 96 at-bats, belted hits his first three trips against OCC starter Ryan Doran, the middle blow a grand slam to open the scoring in the second inning. After Vickers doubled in two in the third, OCC Coach John Altobelli said he considered cutting his losses and going with lesser arms to save his best pitching for what would have been a long grind back from the loser’s bracket.
“Their left-hander [starting pitcher Kylin Turnbull, who was drafted in the 30th round by the Chicago White Sox last year and came in with a 5-2 record, a 2.47 earned-run average and 92 strikeouts in 80 innings this season] was good,” Altobelli said, knowing Turnbull had averaged just two earned runs allowed in his 11 previous starts. “I thought to myself ‘I don’t know if we’re going to get six runs.’”
But Turnbull walked six to go with his seven strikeouts through seven innings and OCC sent 10 runners to the plate in a four-run fourth to reintroduce some suspense.
After a Woodward single to start the fourth, Turnbull struck out the next two hitters. But he walked freshman shortstop Austin Wobrock and sophomore second baseman Zach Chavez, who played at SBCC as a freshman. A passed ball with the bases loaded plated OCC’s first run and sophomore center fielder Kevin Cho drove a two-run triple to left-center field to make it 6-3.
After a walk, sophomore right fielder Matt Moynihan singled in the fourth OCC tally.
With freshman Brian O’Keefe calming things on the mound (3 2/3 relief innings with just one run and three hits allowed), OCC welcomed reliever DJ Gunderson, like Turnbull a first-team All-Western State Conference performer, who worked a scoreless eighth.
Freshman reliever Mitch Maltby got four outs in the eighth and ninth (though he was victimized by an error that led to an unearned run] to keep OCC close and Moynihan opened the ninth against Gunderson with a hustle double.
Carlson followed with a single, freshman catcher Trent Woodward launched a three-run home run, his first of the season, to spark the OCC rooters into a fury and jettison Gunderson from the game.
After Chris Perry induced a pop to short, he walked pinch hitter Tristen Metcalf and Wobrock, the latter on a heroic 11-pitch at-bat in which he fouled off five two-strike offerings. After Chavez followed with a walk to load the bases, Cho lined to shallow left field, where a charging Colt McLaughlin made the catch.
While Metcalf was late getting back to the bag to tag, McLaughlin threw to second base, where Wobrock was scrambling back safely. But the ill-advised throw allowed Metcalf to motor home with the tying run, though Cho was denied an RBI, as it was correctly ruled that Metcalf advanced on the throw.
“When we tied it up, I knew it was only a matter of time,” said O’Keefe, who said he was anxious to perform in the postseason environment.
“I do well in the playoffs, so I was pumped and excited,” said O’Keefe, who noted he pitched a no-hitter with 11 strikeouts in his state playoff opener in Connecticut nearly a year ago to the day.
Carlson also appears to savor the postseason, as he has hit two home runs in three playoff games after having just one during the regular season.
“I just let it loose and tried to hit it hard, he said of his game-winning cut on a 3-1 pitch. “I think what makes us so good is that we love to battle and we never quit. There was not a moment when I thought we were going to lose.”
Moynihan led OCC’s 13-hit attack by going four for six, while Carlson and Woodward were both three for five.
Freshman Josh Evans, who pitched the 10th for OCC, earned the win and is now 4-0.
Orange Coast 9, Santa Barbara 8
SCORE BY INNINGS
SBCC 042 010 001 0 – 8 13 0
OCC 000 400 004 1 – 8 13 2
Turnbull, Gunderson (8), Anthony (9) and White; Doran, O’Keefe (5), Matlby (8), Evans (10) and Woodward. W – Evans, 4-0. L – Perry, 1-3. 2B – Vickers (SB), White (SB), Moynihan (OCC). 3B – Cho (OCC). HR – Vickers (SB), Woodward (OCC), Carlson (OCC).