Pirates advance to next round after topping Cougars, 5-3

Pirates advance to next round after topping Cougars, 5-3

COSTA MESA -- It was a battle right down to the final pitch, but in the end, the Orange Coast College baseball team found enough in the tank to eliminate Cuesta from the postseason with a 5-3 win over the Cougars in Game 2 of the Southern California Regional playoffs on Saturday at Wendell Pickens Field.

With the win, the second-seeded Pirates (28-13) will advance to next week's Super Regionals, which will begin on Friday at home, beginning at 2 p.m.

"These two games came down to the end and against a team like Cuesta, I wouldn't expect anything less," OCC head coach John Altobelli said. "We managed to pick up some key hits late in the game, our pitching came through for us down the stretch and we managed to make the big play on defense when we really needed it. It was a great team win for us."

It was a battle of two top-quality pitchers on Saturday, with OCC starter Cameron Jabara and Cuesta righty Johnny Wiltfang going pitch for pitch, holding each team to just one hit over the first five innings. 

Cuesta, the designated home team for Game 2 of this three-game series, finally pieced together some offense in the bottom of the sixth. A single off the bat of Mason Grotto was followed up with an RBI-double by Andrew Navigato, which scored Grotto and put the Cougars (22-19) ahead, 1-0.

On the play, Navigato was thrown out trying to stretch his double into a triple and that botched plan proved big for the Cougars, who followed with a walk and a pair of singles to load the bases. But Jabara regrouped and struck out the next batter to keep the Pirates in the game, trailing only by a run.

Murphy Stehly came through with a big two-out, RBI single in the top of the seventh for the Pirates to tie the game and in the top of the eighth, Coast grabbed the lead for good with a pair of runs to take a 3-1 advantage.

With one out and runners on first and second, Chris Ceballos came through with an RBI-single to left to put OCC up 2-1. Domenic Donato came through with a run-scoring triple to left to score Ceballos and put OCC up, 3-1.

Cuesta pulled to within a run at 3-2 in the bottom of the eighth, but the Pirates answered with two more runs in the top of the ninth.

Pinch runner Adam Serrano, who ran for Jacob Doty (led off with a hit-by-pitch), advanced to second on a wild pitch, then went to third on another wild pitch and scored on a third wild pitch to put Coast up, 4-2. With a runner on third and two outs, Skylar Limonchi reached on an error by the Cougars, which allowed the Pirates' fifth run to score.

Cuesta made things interesting in the bottom of the ninth with a run on three hits, but reliever Gus Culpo wiggled out of trouble and ended the game with a harmless fly ball with the tying run on first base.

Jabara (6-0) picked up the win and allowed just one run on five hits with eight strikeouts over seven innings. Culpo picked up his first save after allowing two runs (one earned) over the final two innings with two strikeouts.

Wiltfang (9-2) picked up the hard-luck loss after allowing four runs (three earned) over eight innings, walking one and striking out four.

Navigato went 2-for-5 with two RBI, while Grotto added two hits and scored two runs for the Cougars.

Javier Rosales went 1-for-1 and reached base three times for the Pirates.