Saddleback bats warm up late for come-from-behind victory

Victory (Sarah Black)

Leif Kemp

The Saddleback College baseball team overcame a slow start but eventually woke up in time to defeat the visiting Riverside College Tigers 7-5 Saturday.

On a cold and overcast afternoon, Dylan Christensen took to the mound for his first starting pitching assignment of the year. Christensen scattered nine hits over seven innings, and kept the Gauchos close by allowing only three runs until their bats could overcome a solid pitching performance from Riverside pitcher Pedro Cota.

Cota kept the Gauchos off-balance most of the afternoon, but the Gauchos bats finally warmed up in the bottom of the seventh, breaking through for five runs and six hits to overcome a four run deficit to take the lead 5-4.

Except for a Lee Casas triple in the second, and Gaucho right fielder Ryan Forkel’s double in the third inning, the Saddleback bats were mostly quiet until the seventh inning. An alert play from catcher Tanner Gore seemed to be the spark Saddleback needed to turn the game around and awaken their offense.

In the top of the sixth inning, Riverside looked to be putting together a decisive game clinching rally, but the inning was cut short by one of the many base running blunders the Tigers committed.

Already leading 3-0, the Tigers began the inning with two singles by Aaron LaFoun, and Michael Cast putting runners on first and second. Saddleback first baseman Lee Casas then fielded the subsequent sacrifice bunt and proceeded to throw the ball into right field for a throwing error, scoring LaFoun.

The game teetered on disaster for the Gauchos, when the Tigers Vince Ponce followed Casas’ error with a single. However, Saddleback catcher Tanner Gore ended the potential big inning by throwing out the runner at third who had mistakenly turned the bag to aggressively.

The big play sent a charge through the Saddleback dugout and the Gauchos eventually chased Cota in the seventh by collecting three straight singles. Elliot Martin, Matt Paradise, and Lee Casas hit consecutive singles, with Casas single scoring Martin for the Gauchos first run.

Cota was then pulled for new pitcher Chris Neff who quickly gave up three singles of his own in what turned into a five run inning on six hits. Saddleback came into the seventh trailing 4-0. Casas and Martin each collected two hits and scored two runs, while Paradise also had two hits, scoring once.

Riverside came back in their half of the eighth inning. The Tigers loaded the bases on two walks and an error from Saddleback pitcher Ian Parvin who came on in relief of Christensen. With no outs, Saddleback Coach Jack Hodges pulled Parvin and turned to Zach Nuno to shut the door on the rally.

Nuno quickly induced a ground ball back to the mound to get the first out of the inning on a force play at the plate. Brad Burcrof then hit what appeared to be a single to right field, but a perfect throw from Ryan Forkel was scooped up by Gore who blocked the plate perfectly for the second out, holding onto the baseball as he and Riverside catcher Cade Gotta collided.

After a sacrifice fly tied the score again at 5-5, Tanner Gore continued to give Riverside base runners fits when he nailed Michael Cast attempting to steal third base. The catcher’s throw got to third base far enough ahead of the base runner that Cast tried to return to second base, but was caught in a rundown to end the inning.

Nuno improved to 5-3 on the year with his two innings of relief work.

The bottom of the eighth inning began with Saddleback shortstop Elliot Martin singling and advancing to second on Paradise’s sacrifice bunt. The Tigers chose to issue Lee Casas an intentional base on balls to take their chances with pitcher Zach Nuno.

The strategy appeared to pay off when Nuno bounced a “for sure” double play ball to Riverside shortstop Curtis Cassise who promptly kicked the ball past the second baseman for an error allowing Martin to score what turned out to be the winning run.

Casas scored the final run when the tigers were unable to complete yet another double play opportunity as the speedy Mychal Kabeary beat the throw to first. Kaybeary went 1-4 at the plate finishing with two RBI’s.

The victory improves the Gauchos record to 12-10 overall and 5-5 in Orange Empire

Conference play. Riverside drops to 13-10 overall, 6-4 in conference play.

The win also adds to Saddleback Head Coach Jack Hodges record number of victories. Earlier this month Hodges became Saddleback College’s all-time winningest coach as the Gauchos defeated Golden West College 10-5 on Tuesday, March 15, 2011.

The victory at Golden West was number 570 breaking the previous mark held by long time Gaucho basketball coach Bill Brummel. Hodges has been the Saddleback baseball coach for 22 years, and has now been at the helm for 572 of the program’s 885 victories.

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