MISSION VIEJO — Orange Coast College baseball coach John Altobelli has good reason for being a little rusty when it comes to slump-busters. Until Thursday, after all, it had been more than three years since he lost more than two games in a row.
But after a 3-0 Orange Empire Conference setback at Saddleback that extended the Pirates' losing streak to three and put their Southern California playoff hopes in some peril, he was all about exploring options to get his team out of its funk.
OCC (21-12, 9-9 in conference), ranked No. 2 in Southern California, fell from a three-way tie for third into fifth place, one game behind both Saddleback and Cypress with three conference games remaining.
The Gauchos (22-11, 10-8), ranked No, 6 in Southern California, took plenty of credit for the Pirates' second shutout loss of the season. The primary reasons were sophomore pitcher Evan Manarino and freshman slugger Brandon Cody.
Manarino allowed six hits, all singles, including four infield singles, to post his second shutout and third complete game of the season. He allowed only three runners to reach second base and only one to reach third. He struck out four and walked none to improve to 8-1 and lower his earned-run average to 1.61.
Cody, whose 38 hits this season include an incredible 23 for extra bases, drove in all three runs with a two-run homer and a double. Cody's seventh dinger of the season, in the first inning off OCC starter Dallas Draviczki, ties him for the state lead. By doubling in a run in the eighth, Cody lifted his conference-leading slugging percentage to .719.
But while complimentary of both Saddleback standouts afterward, Altobelli was more eager to talk about his own team's recent struggles.
"I told my guys, I'm tired of tipping my hat to the other pitcher," Altobelli said. "I mean [Manarino] did a great job. We've run into three good arms in a row, now, but we just have to do a better job of battling in the batter's box.
"We make one bad pitch in the game and [Cody] hits it out. Dallas wasn't very sharp."
Altobelli liked the work of reliever Sean Leary, who entered in the second and worked 5 1/3 scoreless innings. Leary allowed just two hits, while walking one and striking out two.
Draviczki walked three of the nine batters he faced and fell to 2-2.
Sophomore second baseman Ricky Navarro went two for three with a sacrifice as the lone bright spot, offensively for OCC, which was hitless in four chances with runners in scoring position.
"We had nothing going, offensively," said Altobelli, who implored his players to look themselves in the mirror and come up with some way to contribute in Saturday's home rematch with the Gauchos.
"Saturday is huge, huge," said Altobelli, whose team has not hit such an extended skid since a four-game losing streak in April of 2010.
"I've had good talks with [the players] and I've tried to stay positive," Altobelli, in his 21st season at the OCC helm, said. "Back in my 28- and 29-year-old days, I'd be screaming and yelling, ranting and raving. We've had good practices and the guys are working hard. But I need someone to get aggressive and take control of the batter's box. I told them, 'Hey, maybe step out of the box on [Manarino]. He was on dial-a-pitch today. Just slow him down.'"
Orange Empire Conference
Saddleback 3, Orange Coast 0
SCORE BY INNINGS
OCC 000 000 000 – 0 6 0
Sad 200 000 01x – 3 5 0
Draviczki, Leary (2), Longville (8) and Toll-McKippop, Chadd (8); Manarino and Ferret. W – Manarino, 8-1. L – Draviczki, 2-2. 2B – Butler (S), Cody (S). HR – Cody (S).