COSTA MESA -- An old familiar "friend" returns to Wendell Pickens Field as the Orange Coast College baseball team hosts longtime Orange Empire Conference rival, Riverside City College, in this weekend's Super Regional playoffs, beginning on Friday at 2 p.m.
Game 2 of this best-of-three series will take place on Saturday at OCC, beginning at 1 p.m. and if a third game is necessary, that will be on Sunday at 12 p.m., also at Coast.
"It's always fun when two teams from the OEC play in the playoffs," longtime head coach John Altobelli said. "While it definitely brings the intensity to another level, it provides challenges for both teams. Needless to say, there won't be too many surprises for either team this weekend. We know each other very well and we played Riverside only a couple weeks ago so I'm sure both teams will be well prepared for this coming weekend."
Both teams are coming of opening-round sweeps during last weekend's Regional playoffs. The Pirates, seeded No. 2 in Southern California), needed a pair of late-inning rallies, but prevailed over 15th-seeded Cuesta, 4-3 on Friday and 5-3 on Saturday, while the Tigers, seeded ninth in Southern California, rolled through Bakersfield and swept past the host Renegades, 5-0 on Friday and 8-1 on Saturday.
For the Pirates (29-13) -- champions of the OEC for the second year in a row -- they trailed Cuesta 3-1 heading into the bottom of the ninth inning in Game 1, only to rally with three runs and escape with a 4-3 win. A game-tying, two-run single by Chris Ceballos was followed up with a game-winning, RBI-double by Domenic Donato to stun the upset-minded Cougars.
In Game 2, Cuesta again pushed the Pirates to the brink of a third game, leading 1-0 after six innings. But, Coast rallied with five runs over the final three innings to eliminate the Cougars, 5-3. RBI-hits by Ceballos and Donato as well as an RBI-single by Murphy Stehly helped fuel the comeback.
The OCC pitching staff came through and held the Cougars to just five earned runs over 18 innings. On Friday, the trio of Michael Giacone (4-2, 2.39 ERA), Doug Magee (4-1, three saves, 3.63 ERA) and Josh Berman (2-2, five saves, 4.50 ERA) combined to allow three runs on six hits with five strikeouts. On Saturday, Cameron Jabara (6-0, 3.54 ERA) and Gus Culpo (3-1, one save, 2.70 ERA) combined for three runs (two earned) on nine hits with 10 strikeouts.
For the Tigers (27-15), who finished third in the OEC this year, they held the eighth-seeded Renegades to just one run all weekend. In the opener, Daniel Martinez (7-3, 2.76 ERA) pitched eight innings of two-hit ball with five strikeouts, while Graham Kuck (2-2, seven saves, 2.54 ERA) closed things out with a scoreless ninth. On Saturday, David Barela (5-3, 2.95 ERA) nearly matched Martinez with 7 2/3 innings of nine-hit, one-run baseball with six strikeouts before Alexander Salazar (4-5, 3.23 ERA) finished things up.
Salazar should be fresh in the minds of Pirate fans, following his performance at OCC on April 26. There, he pitched 8 2/3 innings and held Coast to one run on seven hits with six strikeouts as the Tigers edged the Pirates, 2-1. Coast picked up wins in the other two matchups -- 8-7 at RCC on April 24 and 12-5 in the regular season finale on April 26, also in Riverside.
Freshman outfielder Joseph Hodapp leads the RCC offense with a .326 average, 43 hits and 25 RBI, while Martinez has been a solid pitcher AND slugger for the Tigers, batting .297 with 41 hits 15 extra-base hits, three home runs and 23 RBI, leading the team with a .471 on-base percentage and a .457 slugging percentage.
For OCC, sophomore Coby Kauhaahaa leads the team with a .339 batting average, while leadoff hitter Skylar Limonchi leads the team with 50 hits and 36 runs scored to go along with a .311 average. Ceballos (.304, three HR, 25 RBI), Donato (.297, 14 extra base hits, 25 RBI), Ramiro Velasco (.302, five HR, 32 RBI) and Jacob Doty (.321, four HRs, 21 RBI) provide the Pirates with depth and power up and down the lineup.