COSTA MESA -- One of the best pitching performances of the season went for naught on Thursday as the Orange Coast College baseball team fell 2-1 to visiting Riverside City College at Wendell Pickens Field.
The loss kept the Pirates (26-13, 14-6 in Orange Empire Conference) a chance to clinch the conference title outright, thanks to a win for Saddleback College against Golden West. Coast holds a one-game lead on the Gauchos with one game left to play. OCC will be at RCC on Friday (2 p.m.) while the Gauchos host the Rustlers, also at 2 p.m.
Emergency starter Cole Van Den Helder (2-1) pitched well enough to win, allowing just two runs on four hits with 10 strikeouts. Michael Giacone came in and held the Tigers (25-14, 11-9) to two hits with five strikeouts over the final 2 1/3. It was the second time this season that a team struck out 15 times in a game and WON. The previous time was on March 30, when Coast struck out 15 times in a 9-8 comeback win against Santa Barbara City College.
Coast grabbed a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the sixth when Chris Ceballos was hit by a pitch, advanced to second on a single by Domenic Donato, moved to third on a double-play ground out and scored on an infield single off the bat of Jacob Doty.
Riverside loaded the bases with two out on a single and a pair of walks off of Van Den Helder. He was relived by Giacone, who picked up two quick strikes on Dylan Kanoho. But, Kanoho got the better of the battle as he blooped the next pitch into left field to score two runs, putting the Tigers ahead for good.
OCC had its leadoff runners on in both the seventh and eighth innings but could not tie the game. And, in the ninth, with two outs and nobody on, Coast loaded the bases on three walks, but a routine ground out to first ended the final threat of the afternoon.
Alexander Salazar pitched 8 2/3 innings and held the Pirates to one run on seven hits with five walks and six strikeouts to pick up the win.