The Orange Coast College baseball team had already amassed a 12-2 record and earned the No. 1 ranking in Southern California. But Pirates Coach John Altobelli said his players may have struggled with the diminished margin for effort that accompanies Orange Empire Conference competition.
Host OCC, which came in batting .336 as a team, managed just five hits in 13 innings to come out on the short end of a 2-1 decision against No. 7-ranked Cypress, the defending state champion, in the conference opener for both teams Thursday.
Cypress pitching, of course, had plenty to do with that, as sophomore Steven Kane, the 2013 OEC Pitcher of the Year, allowed two hits and one unearned run in nine innings for the Chargers (10-4).
Kane, 15-0 in his career at Cypress, was matched by OCC sophomore starter David Hill, who surrendered just six hits in 10 innings in his attempt to earn his fifth win without a loss this season.
Hill's big mistake was an elevated change-up to Cypress designated hitter Joe Duffin, who launched the offering over the fence in left-center field to lead off the second inning and give the visitors a 1-0 lead.
Hill, who had allowed just one earned run in 24 innings coming in, finished with eight strikeouts, before exiting having thrown an estimated 115 pitches, according to Altobelli.
Orange Coast got on the scoreboard in the eighth inning, benefiting from some good fortune, but giving some of the very same back to the Chargers to allow things to stay deadlocked.
Cody Maples walked to start the OCC eighth, then was replaced by pinch-runner Greg Espinosa. Jake Thumm tried to sacrifice and Kane fielded his bunt and elected to throw to second base to try to force Espinosa. But the throw was high, drawing shortstop Grant Mayeaux off the bag, allowing Espinosa to slide in safely.
Mayeaux then threw in the dirt to first to try to get Thumm and the ball got away to allow Espinosa to reach third.
Daniel Delaney followed with a line single to right to drive in Espinosa and put runners on the corners with no outs.
With Robert Longtree at the plate, Altobelli put on the safety squeeze, on which the runner from third is supposed to wait until the bunt is down before breaking for the plate. But when Longtree took a ball outside on the first pitch, Thumm strayed one step too far from third and was tagged out by third baseman Matt Tietz, who had fielded a pickoff throw from catcher Jonny Miller.
"We shot ourselves in the foot there," Altobelli said. "We practice the safety squeeze all the time and it's an easy way to get a run. But [Thumm] gets too much [of a jump] and gets picked off."
OCC, which stranded a runner at second base in the second, third, 10th and 12th innings, failed to score the rest of the way.
Cypress reliever Matt Esparza surrendered three hits and struck out seven in four relief innings to earn the win, in a game that Altobelli hopes can teach his players a lesson.
"I thought maybe we were trying too hard today," Altobelli said. "All of a sudden it's conference play and opening day, so to speak. I saw too many big swings, and not enough of guys just doing what we have been doing. We played [errorless] defense and pitched great today, we just came up on the short end."
Delaney was two for four to lead the OCC offense, which hit .119 in the game.
Cypress second baseman Jack Flansburg had three hits and a walk, Hill's first and only base on balls in now 34 innings this season.
Spencer Moran took the loss when Kramer Ferrell followed Joe Duffin's two-out single in the 13th with an RBI double to the gap in right-center field.
Orange Empire Conference
Cypress 2, Orange Coast 1 (13 innings)
Cyp 010 000 000 000 1 – 2 9 3
OCC 000 000 010 000 0 – 1 5 0
Kane, Esparza (10) and Miller; D. Hill, Reta (11), Moran (11) and Delaney. W – Esparza, 2-0. L – Duran, 0-1. 2B – Ferrell (C), Delaney (OCC). HR – Duffin (C).