Pirates host L.A. Mission in Regional playoff opener

Pirates host L.A. Mission in Regional playoff opener

COSTA MESA -- The top-seeded Orange Coast College baseball team will begin its trek towards Fresno this weekend as the Pirates host L.A. Mission College in the opening round of the Southern California Regional Playoffs. Game 1 is set for Friday at 2 p.m. at Wendell Pickens Field.

Game 2 of this best-of-three series will be on Saturday at 11 a.m. at OCC and if a third game is required, that will take place following the conclusion of Game 2.

"It's the best time of the season and the guys are excited to see what we can achieve this postseason," OCC head coach John Altobelli said. "We've got a few sophomores who remember how great it was to make it to the State Final Four last year and hopefully, if we play the way we are capable of playing, we can get back there again."

The Pirates (29-8-1) earned the No. 1 spot in Southern California by winning the Orange Empire Conference title for the third year in a row, capped off with a dramatic three-game sweep over Santa Ana at the end of the regular season. 

With one of the deepest lineups among the 32 remaining playoff teams, the Pirates enter this weekend's regional with a stellar .323 team batting average. Sophomore shortstop Murphy Stehly leads the way with a .389 average with 42 hits, 27 runs, 13 doubles and 31 RBI. OEC Player of the Year, Davis Delorefice is close behind with a .380 average, 46 hits, 32 runs, four triples and 24 RBI. 

Jacob Gentry, the hero in the conference-clinching win over the Dons a week ago, is batting .372 with 35 hits and 25 RBI, with Tyler Lasch (.359, 46 hits, 4 HR, 26 RBI) and Tommy Williams (.348, 40 hits, 34 runs, 19 RBI) rounding out a relentless offensive barrage from the Pirates.

Sophomore Cole Van Den Helder looks to be the series starter for the Pirates after a brilliant 2019 season where he went 9-1 with two saves and a 3.00 ERA, allowing 23 earned runs over 69 innings with 48 strikeouts. Sophomore lefty Miles Sandum is 4-0 with a 4.50 ERA and looks to be the Game 2 starter, but Coast has options to choose from, including sophomore Ben Davis (4-3, 1.92 ERA, 51 strikeouts in 56 1/3 innings), freshman Michael Ryhlick (2-1, 3.38 ERA, 37 strikeouts over 45 1/3 IP) and Brenden Argomaniz (4-1, 3.89 ERA, 32 strikeouts in 37 IP). 

If the game goes to the bullpen, look for sophomore lefty Vince Inman to take the ball after going 4-0 with a save and a 1.47 ERA, allowing just five earned runs over 30 2/3 innings. Delorefice joins Inman as the team's closer with a 1-1 record with two saves and a 3.46 ERA.

For the 16th-seeded Eagles (23-16), they are playing their best baseball at the right time, riding a six-game winning streak into this weekend's regional. Mission defeated Southwestern College, 7-1, on Tuesday in a Regional Play-In game to earn the opportunity for more baseball. 

A five-back of sophomores anchor the Eagles' offense, led by outfielder Andrew Schelnert with a .354 batting average with 58 hits, 39 runs and 25 RBI, followed by Robert Reeves (.353, 49 hits, 36 runs, 19 RBI), Jose Holguin (.345, 48 hits, 38 runs, 39 RBI), Jonathan Max (.329, 51 hits, 4 HR, 37 RBI) and Gabe Gonzalez (.278, 42 hits, 40 runs, 10 HR, 32 RBI).

Sophomore pitcher Thomas Gutierrez (9-2, one save, two complete games, 2.75 ERA, 91 2/3 innings) leads the Mission pitching staff. Gutierrez pitched eight strong innings on Tuesday against Southwestern, allowing one run on six hits with five strikeouts. Despite the Tuesday start, look for Gutierrez to see plenty of action this weekend against the Pirates.  

Sophomore Domenic Eberle projects to be the Game 1 starter on Friday after going 3-3 with a 3.86 ERA, with 56 strikeouts over 49 innings. Out of the bullpen, closer Louis Vargas is 1-2 with five saves and a 5.03 ERA with 20 strikeouts over 19 2/3 innings.