COSTA MESA — An Orange Coast College baseball team that had been larger than life most of the season, benefited from a healthy dose of mortality on Sunday to win the second championship game of the double-elimination Southern California Super Regional.
The 16-1 triumph over Glendale, which topped the Pirates, 6-3, in the first game Sunday, propels OCC (36-5-1), ranked No. 1 in one national poll, into the four-team California Community College Athletic Assn. State Championship, held Friday through Sunday at Bakersfield College.
OCC will meet Sierra College (25-15-1) in the first round on Friday at noon. Consumnes River (25-16) and Rio Hondo (38-3) round out the field in the double-elimination state tournament.
Sophomore pitcher Eric Salcido allowed two hits in five shutout innings to earn the win and freshman right fielder Bijan Rademacher drove in five runs, including a grand slam that put the Pirates up, 8-0, in the fifth inning to key the clinching victory.
Salcido, who improved to 3-1 in his seventh start of the season, said a song played before he took the mound helped inspire him.
“The song [“There Goes my Hero” by the Foo Fighters] was played at my brother’s funeral,” Salcido said of his older brother Rudy Salcido, an Army National Guard Sergeant killed in action in Iraq in November of 2006. “It helps me know that he was with me out there on the mound.”
Salcido said he also draws inspiration from a former San Dimas High baseball teammate who was killed in a car accident in the fall of 2009, just months after San Dimas won the CIF Southern Section Division IV championship at Angels Stadium, in a game that Salcido, an All-CIF honoree, pitched the final two innings to collect a save.
“I have a bracelet with [Eddie Miles] name on it and I wear it all the time,” Salcido said of his late teammate. “Every time I go out on the mound, I say a little prayer for both of those guys to watch over me and be with me. Every time I pitch, I feel like my brother is right behind me.”
Rademacher, who earned the save in the Pirates’ first two Super Regional wins on Friday and Saturday and whose 10 postseason hits lead the team, said the opening loss Sunday helped provide a sense of urgency.
“We came out here and thought [Glendale (30-12), a state Final Four team last season] was going to roll over and we were going to have an easy win,” Rademacher said. “And then it hit us: We could be gone today. Nothing is guaranteed. And then we remembered why we’re playing and we remembered who we dedicated the season to.”
OCC has dedicated the season to Jessie Joy Rees, who began the NEGU Foundation for kids battling major illnesses, before dying of brain cancer in January at age 12. Rees, whose phrase “Never, ever give up,” forms the acronym title of her foundation, lived in South Orange County. Her grandfather, Leon Skeie, was a longtime athletic trainer and professor at OCC.
“Obviously, we’re playing for Jessie and that thought just motivated us,” Rademacher said of his team’s mind-set between games. “We said ‘You know, we’ve got to win this for her. It’s not about us, it’s about her, so just go out there and get the win.’”
The Pirates had little trouble producing the clinching victory, scoring one in the second inning then three more in the fourth, before Rademacher’s seventh homer of the season doubled the lead. OCC, which won the program’s second state title in 2009, added three runs in the sixth and seventh innings, and two more in the eighth.
Sophomore shortstop Joel Licon was three for five with two runs and one run batted in, while sophomore left fielder Stefan Sabol was two for four with a homer, three RBIs and four runs.
Sophomore first baseman Bryan Garza had a two-run triple, as nine players contributed to the 16-hit attack.
Glendale used two home runs, dramatic defensive gems and a complete game by Kirk Edson, the team’s closer making his first start of the season, to capture the momentum in the morning game.
OCC had 11 hits, including three by sophomore catcher Trent Woodward and two apiece by Rademacher and freshman center fielder Boog Powell, in the first game Sunday. Woodward Rademacher and Powell also drove in runs in the opener, in which four Pirates pitchers issued five walks and hit four batters.
“I told our guys [between games] that [the Vaqueros] played probably as perfect a game as they could play against us,” OCC Coach John Altobelli said. “But then we started making those plays and it was our turn. We talked with [Salcido] about unsung heroes and stepping up and he gave us a good, quality start. That’s what we needed, because the [Glendale] guys were feeling pretty confident coming back out here [for the second game].”
Salcido, who said having pitched at Angels Stadium in a CIF title game helped him harness his nerves in the biggest start of his college career, lowered his earned-run average to 2.33.
Sophomore Andrew Bynum, a bounce-back from UC Irvine who had pitched only 10 1/3 innings all year, allowed one hit and one run in three relief innings of the finale. And freshman Tyler Mitchell, who had thrown three innings previously, pitched a scoreless ninth to find himself at the bottom of a spirited dog pile.
OCC’s 16 runs marked its second-best output of the season, behind a 21-1 thumping of Golden West on April 14.
The Pirates are one win away from matching the school single-season record set by the 2009 state champions and their current winning percentage (.867) would top the previous standard of .862 set in 1957.