BAKERSFIELD — The Orange Coast College baseball team has dealt with adversity only in small doses this season. But in the opener of the California Community College Athletic Assn. State Championship on Friday, Sierra College sophomore pitcher Josh Eagle continued to deliver his lesson on how to overcome a sizable obstacle he battles every day.
Eagle, who had five major surgeries after being born without a muscle on the inside of his left foot, including fusing the bones in his ankle that left him with a noticeable limp, blanked the Pirates, 4-0, on six hits.
It was the first time OCC (36-6-1) had been shut out all season and ended a streak of 95 games in which they had scored at least one run, dating back to the latter part of the 2010 season.
The loss means the Pirates, ranked No. 1 in one national poll for most of the season, now must win four games in two days to claim the school's fifth state crown, its second in four years.
OCC meets Rio Hondo (38-4) Saturday at 10 a.m. in an elimination game for the right to play again at approximately 5 p.m. against the loser of Saturday's winner's bracket semifinal between Sierra (26-15-1) and Cosumnes River (26-16). Cosumnes River defeated Rio Hondo, 3-1, Friday night, ending Rio Hondo's 33-game winning streak.
If OCC can win twice on Saturday, it must win two straight against Saturday's winner's bracket semifinal winner to prevail in the double-elimination format.
"If anybody is going to do it, it's going to be this team," OCC Coach John Altobelli said of the improbable road back from the loser's bracket. We've got some pitching depth, so if we get into Games 3 and 4, I like our pitchers. I think our offense will get going. I like our chances of coming out of it as much as anyone else's. It's a great group of guys."
Strong starting pitching, a staple all year, was one of the Pirates' pillars that crumbled Friday. Sophomore Keegan Yuhl, the Orange Empire Conference Pitcher of the Year who came in 11-1 with a 1.88 earned-run average, allowed six hits and four runs, three earned, in four innings, before being lifted with the idea of him coming back on Sunday.
"I felt good today, I did," said Yuhl, who lost for the first time in 13 starts (his other defeat came in relief). "I made good pitches and a couple of bad pitches. [The Wolverines] took advantage of their hits and a couple of errors. You know the baseball gods just weren't on our side today. We didn't play like us today. We've never been shut out all year. We're much more offensive and I'm usually a lot better than that. I'll wear it. I believe in us, though. There's nobody better than us."
Eagle, who improved to 11-2 and lowered his ERA from 1.57 to 1.45, struck out seven, walked two and hit one batter. He retired the first hitter in every inning but the ninth while surviving an OCC offense that stranded at least one runner in every inning. It was the fifth complete game of 2012 for Eagle, whose fused plant foot points toward third base, instead of home plate.
"[Eagle] was just locating," Altobelli said of the 6-foot, 185-pound right-hander whom Sierra Coach Rob Wilson calls the most amazing player he has ever coached. "He threw a great game for them and you've got to tip your cap. The guy on the mound can dictate and he did. He did a good job."
Two of OCC's hits were bunt singles, but sophomore catcher Trent Woodward tripled and first baseman Bryan Garza doubled as each posted two hits.
Woodward, who tripled with two outs in the sixth inning, was the only OCC base runner to reach third base.
Freshman center fielder Boog Powell and sophomore pinch-hitter Robert Witt also managed hits for OCC, which came in batting .306 as a team.
Sierra leadoff man Jared Snow lined the first pitch of the game past Yuhl's head and into center for a single. After a sacrifice bunt moved Snow to second, Eddie Mora-Loera singled through the right side to open the scoring. Mora-Loara moved to second when the throw from right field skipped past Woodward. He went to third on a groundout, then scored when sophomore third baseman Austin Wobrock bobbled a grounder for the second error of the inning.
Kamen Kamoe belted a two-run home run to left field with two outs in the third for the final runs. It was only the second home run allowed all season by Yuhl, whose ERA rose to 2.08.
Sierra, which finished fourth in the Big 8 Conference, but is 6-0 in the postseason, had seven hits, but did not commit an error.
Yuhl said he plans to take the mound again Sunday, if OCC can win two on Saturday.
"I'm going to play a big factor in this and I plan to … I want to," Yuhl said. "I want the ball again. I'm not worried about our team. We're going to be fine. We've won four straight all year, so this isn't a big deal to us."
CCCAA State Championship
Sierra 4, Orange Coast 0
SCORE BY INNINGS
SC 202 000 000 – 4 7 0
OCC 000 000 000 – 0 6 2
Eagle and Brill; Yuhl, Bynum (5), J. Evans (7), Vandernaald (8) and Woodward. W – Eagle, 11-2. L – Yuhl, 11-2. 2B – Garza (OCC). 3B – Woodward (OCC). HR – Kamoe (SC).