Propelled by dominant relief pitching and dynamic offense, Santa Ana outlasted Saddleback College on Thursday, March 16. SAC scored 11 runs on 17 hits against their conference rival. The final score was 11-6.
The Dons established a strong lead early in the game, putting seven runs on the board in the second inning.
The rally began courtesy of catcher Sebastian McSherry, who struck a single into right field to begin the inning. He was followed by six more hits in the inning, most of them singles, including a long two RBI single by sophomore outfielder Troy Kent and a bases-clearing double by sophomore outfielder Eddie Pelc.
The constant barrage of hits turned the baseball diamond into a carousel of Santa Ana baserunners racing toward home.
The high scoring second inning proved necessary. Saddleback surged back in the top of the third inning with four runs of their own to cut the lead down to a manageable three run deficit.
Starting pitcher Hauze Fragoso struggled against the first-place Saddleback lineup. He allowed seven hits and five runs, all earned, in 3.1 innings of work.
Fragoso was taken out of the game in the top of the fourth inning and replaced with freshman right-hander C.J. Brown. Brown took control of the game from then on, allowing only four hits and one unearned run through the rest of the game.
“C.J. Brown was unreal man,” said manager Tom Stilles. “That guy came in the top of the fourth and didn’t give the ball back. We haven’t had those kinds of performances out of the guys consistently and he’s been one of the best for sure.”
Brown contained the damage brought on by the Cougars and ensured the Dons lead would remain intact.
“Score got kind of close, it was 7-4 when I came in. My job is to go out there and throw strikes and my defense behind me helped a lot,” said Brown.
The Dons offense remained largely quiet following their action-packed second. They would not score again until the sixth inning, when sophomore infielder Austin Haller sent a ball down the right field line for a double that scored infielder Michael Poot.
Two innings later, in the bottom of the eighth, the situation was tight. Santa Ana’s lead was just 8-6 and they were looking for some late insurance runs. They found them once again in Austin Haller, who smashed a long fly ball over the right-center field fence for a three run home run to make the score 11-6.
“I was in a leverage count, 3-1, and he left a fastball over the middle of the plate and I just put a good swing on it.” said Haller.
As Haller’s ecstatic teammates swarmed him at the plate, the tone of the game shifted confidently in the favor of the Dons.
“It felt great …to extend that lead,” said Haller. “Only being up two in the eighth, getting those extra insurance runs is big.”
Haller’s long ball reduced the pressure on the team to maintain the lead. This was especially true for C.J. Brown, who closed the game in the following half-inning.
“That home run from Haller made me feel super comfortable going into the top of the ninth to finish it off. My job is to throw strikes and I was able to do it today,” said Brown.
The win against a tough Saddleback College team was excellent for the Dons, who hold a 3-3 record in conference play. They lost the rubber match on Friday, March 17 at Saddleback by a final of 6-3.
“Hopefully we have enough confidence… and show that we start to believe in ourselves and our ability to win tough baseball games,” said Nilles. “This is a good start here. These guys [Saddleback] will be the one or two seed in the playoffs.”
Santa Ana now boasts a 14-9 overall record.
Looking ahead to Monday, March 20th, the Dons start a three game set against conference rival Golden West. The Dons look to add to their strong road record which sits at 5-4.