COSTA MESA -- After wrapping up the Orange Empire Conference title for the second year in a row, the Orange Coast College baseball team earned a No. 2 seeding for this year's Southern California Regional playoffs and will host No. 15 seed Cuesta in a best-of-three series, which kicks off on Friday at Wendell Pickens Field, beginning at 2 p.m.
Game two will take place on Saturday at OCC, beginning at 11 a.m. and if a third game is needed, it will be played on Saturday, following the conclusion of game two.
With the No. 2 seed, the Pirates (27-13) have the opportunity to host all three rounds of the regional playoffs. As long as Coast keeps winning, Wendell Pickens Field will be the site of the action. If the Pirates win all three rounds, they will advance to the State Final Four, set for May 26-28 at Fresno City College.
"Playoff time is always the best time of the year," OCC head coach John Altobelli said. "This is a great bunch of guys and they've worked hard to get to where they are and to be able to host the first three rounds is an honor. Now we have to play the way we are capable of playing and if we can piece everything together, we could have an exciting finish to this season."
Home cooking and a No. 2 seed were FAR from the minds of the Pirates back on March 20 after losing to rival Golden West, 12-2, and falling to 12-10 overall (4-3 in conference). "Yeah, I might've laughed at you if you told me where we ended up after that game," Altobelli said. "We were banged up a bit on the mound and once we got healthy and we saw some success, the guys just fed off it and we picked up some big wins down the stretch."
Following that game, Coast went on an improbable run, winning 17 of the next 20 games, including 11-of-14 in conference play. Included in those big wins were a pair of extra-inning road victories over Saddleback on April 6 (a 7-4, 10-inning win) and at Riverside City College on March 24 (an 8-7, 11-inning win).
"I think earlier in the year, we might not have won those games, but the guys have come a long way, both on the baseball field and mentally as the season has progressed. We don't go away easily and that's definitely a strength heading into the postseason."
While you may not find a "Murder's Row" of sluggers up and down the OCC lineup, you will find lots of tough outs. Entering the playoffs with a .300 team batting average, eight of OCC's nine starters have over 30 hits each and a batting average of .283 or higher. That lineup is led by sophomore infielder Coby Kauhaahaa, who is batting .351 with 39 hits and 16 RBI, with freshmen Murphy Stehly (.337, 34 hits, 19 RBI, 13 stolen bases) and Skylar Limonchi (.331, team-best 50 hits, 17 RBI, 12 stolen bases) close behind.
In the middle of the lineup, the sophomore foursome of Jacob Doty (.310, four home runs, 21 RBI), Chris Ceballos (.307, three HR, 22 RBI) and Ramiro Velasco (.306, five HR, 31 RBI) and Domenic Donato (.299, 41 hits, 10 doubles, 23 RBI) have been a steady group in the heart of the batting order.
On the mound, sophomore starters Michael Giacone and Cameron Jabara give Coast a solid 1-2 punch, which is crucial in a best-of-three series. Giacone is 4-2 with a 2.14 ERA with 70 strikeouts over just 54 2/3 innings. Jabara overcame some early-season arm trouble and has gone 5-0 with a 3.88 ERA, striking out 44 over 48 2/3 innings.
In the bullpen, Coast has some solid options, including appearances leader Doug Magee (18 games, 4-1, three saves, 3.86 ERA), Gus Culpo (3-0, 2.53 ERA, 27 strikeouts in 21 1/3 innings) and closer Josh Berman (1-2, five saves, 4.68 ERA).
Coast and Cuesta played early in the regular season, with the Cougars taking 2-of-3 back on Feb. 1-3 in San Luis Obispo. In fact, the first 11 games of the Cougars' season came against members of the Orange Empire Conference and Cuesta posted a respectable 6-5 mark over that span.
Cuesta kept its season alive with a 13-4 win over Southwestern in Tuesday's play-in game with the Cougars pounding out 15 hits, including two doubles, a triple and two home runs.
The Cougars' bats are led by sophomore infielder Andrew Navigato, who is among the state leaders with a .390 batting average with 62 hits, 44 runs, 14 doubles, six home runs and 50 RBI. Freshman Zack Berohn has had a solid first season with the Cougars, batting .340 with 51 hits, 14 doubles, 32 runs and 23 RBI.
Most of the innings pitched for the Cougars have come from the starting trio of sophomore Cole Tucker (4-3, 3.28 ERA, 54 strikeouts in 79 2/3 innings), freshman Johnny Wiltfang (9-1, 4.10 ERA, 56 strikeouts in 63 2/3 IP) and sophomore Connor Davis (3-6, 4.89 ERA, 56 strikeouts in 70 IP). Also keep an eye on sophomore Joe Moscot, who is tied with Wiltfang with 21 appearances and is 4-2 with a 4.62 ERA.