By Glen Willett / Staff Writer
By Glen Willett / Staff Writer
Conference play is heating up and the RCC Tigers baseball team is right in the thick of the playoff race as it heads into a key part of its schedule.
The Tigers (16-11, 9-5 Orange Empire Conference) rebounded from a two game losing skid, defeating the Saddleback Gauchos 7-6 and sweeping a series against the Lasers of Irvine Valley by final scores of 11-3 and 15-5 respectively before falling victims to the conference leading Dons of Santa Ana College (19-7, 12-2 Orange Empire Conference) by a score of 6-5.
The team entered its March 29 contest with Saddleback College (12-13, 5-8 Orange Empire Conference) looking to avenge its loss to the Gauchos three days earlier. Tigers’ pitcher Matt Chabot (3-2) got off to a bit of a rough start, allowing a run in each of the first three innings. Chabot settled down in the fourth and held Saddleback scoreless through the next four innings he pitched.
The Tigers were able to capitalize on four wild pitches by Gauchos starter Zach Nuno (5-3) as well as some timely hitting to maintain control of the game throughout the middle innings.
A key sequence in the game came in the fifth inning when Chabot was able to escape a situation with runners on the corners with a clutch strike out of Saddleback third baseman Matt Paradise. RCC would score three runs in the bottom of the fifth and sixth of innings.
In the top of the eighth inning Chabot ran out of magic and allowed two runs before giving way to Kristopher Butler, who would allow another run to score before escaping the inning although the run was credited to Chabot.
The Tigers and Gauchos remained tied at six in the bottom of the ninth inning when RCC right fielder Cade Gotta stepped up to the plate with runners on first and second.
Gotta, who is known for his powerful and accurate arm in the outfield, had allowed a run to score in the second inning when he overthrew a ball to first baseman Billy Nottingham. Gotta drove a pitch from Gauchos reliever Jordan Helmkamp into deep right field scoring Grady Espinosa from second and ending the Tigers losing streak.
“It felt good to be able to redeem myself,” Gotta said. “This team is heading in the right direction, we’re hitting our stride.”
Gotta’s words would ring true in the Tigers next series with Irvine Valley College (14-13, 5-9 Orange Empire Conference).
In a game at Evans Field in Riverside on March 31, RCC was able to build off of Aaron LaFountaine’s leadoff double and pile on to beat the Lasers 11-3. The Lasers only real threat came in the top of the sixth inning when they were able to load the bases while trailing by only three. In an unprecedented move, RCC coach Dennis Erickson would turn to relief pitcher Tanner Clark with the bases loaded and Clark inheriting a 3-0 count.
He would go on to throw three straight strikes to Lasers center fielder Bryce Hara pitch the rest of the game, earning himself his second save of the season and the Tigers a win.
The second game of the series would see RCC travel to Irvine and send Pedro Cota (2-1) to the mound for the second time since being injured earlier in the season. Cota would go six and two-thirds innings for the Tigers while allowing five earned runs which was good enough to get credited with the win. The story of the game however was the Tigers’ offense.
Nottingham, LaFountaine and Chad Erickson each drove in three runs apiece for the Tigers, with Erickson being able to add his team leading third home run of the season along the way.
RCC hit a stumbling block on March 5 against Santa Ana College when their late inning rally fell just 90 feet short.
The Dons got off to a hot start against RCC, scoring five of their six runs in the first four innings of the game leading to a short outing for Chabot who would only last 3.1 innings before giving way to reliever Travis Tomsen.
The Tigers were able to come back by the ninth inning and with Josh Herrera representing the tying run at third David Kiriakos stepped up to the plate for RCC.
Unfortunately, Kiriakos went down on strikes for the final out of the game, giving Santa Ana the victory.
The two teams will face off again in the second game of their two game series on March 7 at Evans field in Riverside.