Community College Baseball: Pirates lacking flame

COSTA MESA — When it was suggested that a batting-glove bonfire may be in order after his Orange Coasts College baseball team fell, 9-1, to visiting Saddleback on Saturday to extend the Pirates' losing streak to four games, Coach John Altobelli said he doubted his squad could generate sufficient heat to fuel such a ceremony.

Seemingly the only sparks flying for the Pirates these days are the impassioned postgame speeches of coaches trying to ignite a flame under a group of players who are stumbling down the stretch.

On the heels of a 3-0 loss Thursday at Saddleback, in which Evan Manarino threw a six-hit shutout, OCC managed just four hits and an unearned run at home against freshman right-hander Tyler Brashears. Half of its 10 hits in the last two games (all singles) have failed to leave the infield, and only twice in the last 21 innings has OCC advanced a runner past second base.

Brashears, who signed originally with UC Irvine, before encountering academic issues, allowed just four hits, all singles, to post his fourth complete game and improve to 7-2. He retired OCC in order seven times and set down the first 10 he faced without having a ball hit out of the infield.

Six OCC pitchers allowed 14 hits, including a three-run home run by Mitchell Holland that spearheaded a five-run seventh inning to significantly widen a 2-1 Gauchos lead.

The victory, the eighth in the last 11 games for the visitors, improved the Gauchos, ranked No. 6 in Southern California, to 23-11, 11-8 in the Orange Empire Conference.

OCC (21-13, 9-10), ranked No. 2 in Southern California, has lost four straight for the first time since April of 2010. The Pirates are in fifth place with two conference games left, but remain hopeful of gaining one of 18 playoff bids. Only conference champions are guaranteed spots, as the rest of the 18-team Southern California field, in which seeds No. 15 through No. 18 square off in a playoff game to provide the final two teams in four, four-team regionals, will be filled out with at-large entries.

Ratings Percentage Index, which rewards teams that play more difficult schedules, is the leading criteria for at-large consideration. This bodes well for OCC.

"The RPI thing, and having more than 20 wins, is going to help us," Altobelli said. We've beaten some quality teams. We've beaten Palomar [in their only meeting] and Palomar is leading [the Pacific Coast Conference]. We swept [two games] against College of the Canyons and they are doing well in their league [third in the seven-team Western State South Conference]. And we [won two of three] against Cuesta, which is leading its [Western State North Conference]."

But whether or not the Pirates can procure a postseason berth may be moot, should it continue to play the way it did against the Gauchos. Including OCC's 2-0 home victory over Saddleback on March 12, the Pirates managed just 16 hits (all singles) and three runs (two earned) in 26 innings against a Gauchos' staff that lowered its earned-run average to 2.42, which ranks second in Southern California and sixth in the state.

While OCC's .282 team batting average ranks No. 26 in the state, it is hitting just .206 during the four-game losing streak. In eight games this month, OCC is hitting .243 with only 13 extra-base hits and one home run.

"I don't want to deny [Brashears] credit, but our hitters' approaches today were awful," Altobelli said. "We had 3-1 and 1-0 counts, and our hacks were just awful."

Ricky Navarro singled with one out and advanced to second when the ball was misplayed in right-center field to spark OCC's lone scoring rally. After a groundout moved Navarro to third and a walk put runners on the corners, Manny Argomaniz bounced a high chopper to the third baseman for an infield single and a run batted in.

Saddleback regained the lead in the sixth on a sacrifice fly, then broke it open an inning later.

"They put up five on us [in the seventh] and you'd have thought it was 50," Altobelli said. "There's not a lot of fight in this team and it's frustrating. I got to the ballpark at 7 o'clock this morning, because I was fired up, and I have [players] coming at 9:44 when they are supposed to be here at 9:45. I was like 'How badly do you guys want it?' I think the coaches are more fired up than the [players] and that's frustrating."

OCC, the defending Orange Empire champion, is one game behind fourth-place Cypress and one game ahead of sixth-place Golden West heading into the final week of the regular season. The Pirates play host to last-place Irvine Valley on Tuesday at 2 p.m., then visit the Lasers on Thursday.

Orange Empire Conference

Saddleback 9, Orange Coast 1


Sad 001 001 502 – 9 14 1

OCC 000 100 000 – 1 4 1

Brashears and Ferret; Dowdy, Porcella (5), Wilson (6), Reta (7), Broussard (7), Davis (9) and Fillingham, Chadd (9). W – Brashears, 7-2. L – Porcella, 3-1. 2B – Miller (S), Butler (S). HR – Mitchell (S).

Twitter: @BarryFaulkner5

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