COSTA MESA — Though nailing a pick to click in the batting order has proved to be a daily exercise in serendipity, the Orange Coast College baseball team has experienced far less variance in the performance of its two ace starting pitchers.
Sophomore Keegan Yuhl held up his half of the bargain on the bump Friday, as the host Pirates blanked Cypress, 3-0, in the opening round of the four-team, double-elimination Southern California Super Regional.
The Pirates (34-4-1), ranked No. 1 in the state, as well as one national poll, will face Mt. San Antonio (31-8) in Saturday's winner's bracket semifinal at 11 a.m., hoping to advance to Sunday's championship game(s). The winner of the four-team Super Regional gets a spot in the four-team State Championship, held May 18-20 at Bakersfield Community College.
Yuhl, the Orange Empire Conference Pitcher of the Year, won for the 11th time in 12 starts this season, getting back on track after a ninth-inning barrage halted his streak of 10 wins in 10 starts in a game the Pirates eventually won in extra innings on Saturday in the regional against Los Angeles Valley.
Yuhl, now 11-1 (his only loss came in relief, while he has two saves), allowed seven hits in eight-plus innings against the Chargers (24-15), against whom he had his only complete game of season on March 20. After allowing a leadoff single in the ninth, Yuhl gave way to freshman Bijan Rademacher, who earned his fourth save. Yuhl, who began his collegiate career at San Diego State, played last season at San Diego City College and has committed to play next season at New Mexico State, struck out three and walked none to lower his earned-run average from 2.08 to 1.88.
OCC sophomore Stefan Sabol blasted a towering, two-run home run to left in the second inning to give OCC all it would need. The Pirates' eight-hit attack also included a pair of singles by sophomore left fielder Chris Carlson and sophomore third baseman Austin Wobrock
Sabol, who missed 25 games with a broken bone in his hand to start the season, entered the postseason hitting .250 with one home run and 14 runs batted in. In three playoff games, Sabol, who has committed to Oklahoma State, is six for 13 with seven RBIs and two homers.
Carlson, the Orange Empire Conference Player of the Year bound for New Mexico State, had missed the previous five games after bruising his right instep by fouling a ball off it on April 19. He was the designated hitter, as he can't yet run at full speed.
Despite three errors to give it eight in three playoff games, OCC made a handful of defensive gems, including those by Sabol, Rademacher in right field, Wobrock, and sophomore second baseman Ben Agredano.
"It was a good baseball game," said OCC Coach John Altobelli, whose team increased its winning percentage to .885, which would surpass the school record of .862 established by the 1957 Pirates who went 25-4. "Keegan, wow, what a bulldog he has been all year for us. He pounded the strike zone and kept the ball down today. He did a great job."
Yuhl, a stocky 6-foot, 220 pounds, is the proverbial crafty right-hander who relies upon spotting his pitches and keeping hitters off-balance, though his fastball can touch 90 mph.
"Sometimes I look at [pitching coach Dave Bowman] and say, 'What is he throwing, about 82 mph?'" Altobelli said. "I know he's faster than that, but I think [his fastball] is just sneaky and it has a good down angle to it."
Yuhl had a four-hit shutout through eight innings against L.A. Valley, but four straight hits led to four runs to erase a 4-0 OCC lead and give him a no-decision. This time, Altobelli and Bowman had a quicker hook.
"That was enough," Altobelli said of Yuhl's eight-plus innings. "He did his job, so it was time to bring in [Rademacher].
Rademacher, a first-team all-conference outfielder who used his dynamic arm to throw out a runner trying to stretch a single into a double from the right-field corner to end the Cypress seventh inning, made his sixth mound appearance, all out of the bullpen in the last month.
And though he allowed the first hit against him all season and walked a batter, Rademacher left the bases loaded. The Cal State Fullerton bounce-back, who had not pitched since high school, but volunteered his services to solidify an inconsistent relief corps, hit 93 mph with his fastball and now has an 0.00 ERA and six strikeouts in six innings.
OCC's other ace, freshman Oregon bounce-back Brandon Brennan, takes his 10-1 record and 1.30 ERA to the mound today. He hopes to keep pace with Yuhl and put the Pirates, who claimed the program's second state crown in 2009, within one victory of their third trip to the state tournament since 2005.
"It's a privilege to have [Yuhl] on the mound," Sabol said of one half of the Pirates' one-two pitching punch. "When [Yuhl and Brennan] are on the mound, we feel like we can take on anyone."
SoCal Super Regional
Orange Coast 3, Cypress 0
SCORE BY INNINGS
Cyp 000 000 000 – 0 8 2
OCC 002 000 10x – 3 8 3
Poncedeleon and Hartong; Yuhl, Rademacher (9) and Woodward, Hugaert (9). W – Yuhl, 11-1. L – Poncedeleon, 5-5. Sv – Rademacher (4). 2B – Clark (C). HR – Sabol (OCC).