By Dylan King | Updated June 1, 2016
The Riverside City College baseball team lost a hard fought playoff series against Golden West, 10-6, in the Southern California Regional semifinals on May 15, effectively ending a surprising season.
Though they came up short this year, the season could still be considered an overall success, especially after the Tigers took on the No. 1 ranked state team Saddleback and scored a shocking upset after eliminating them from the playoffs, capping the series with a resounding 14-4 win in game three.
Gathering momentum from wins in six of the last nine regular season games, including winning two out of three against Irvine Valley and Orange Coast, the Tigers entered the playoffs with an aggressive attitude, looking to stake their claim as championship contenders.
Sophomore shortstop Brody Weiss and pitcher Angel Delgado embraced leadership roles as RCC won 25 of 43 regular season games, with a 9-12 record in the Orange Empire Conference.
Weiss was the team leader in homeruns with five and a .291 batting average, while Delgado was 7-3 with a 2.66 ERA and 81 strikeouts in 17 starts. Weiss displayed improvements in skill and maturity this season, and he credits his work ethic for his success.
“The cool thing about baseball is if you’re not hitting well, there are other ways to impact the game,” Weiss said. “I try to relax before games, because visualization is important for me, and I like to keep (things) simple.”
Head coach Rudy Arguelles appreciates Delgado’s approach to baseball, and expects a bright future for the young pitcher.
“He was one of the major components to the team having success,” Arguelles said. “A lot was riding on him, (there) was a ton of expectations, and he upheld every single one of them.”
Arguelles considered both players leaders who led by example when times were tough, and he compliments former head coach Dennis Rogers for establishing a culture that thrives on game execution and physical exertion.
“You really can’t even compare the situations (and philosophy), and I’ll be fortunate to even look at the shoes that he’s worn, let alone (wear) them,” Arguelles said when asked to distinguish the differences between Rogers and himself. “The majority of what I’ve been able to create (for players this season) has been under his tutelage.”
Rogers took a leave of absence from his position as coach after experiencing a personal setback. Arguelles said he had a conversation with Rogers that the move would take place in the fall.
“We anticipated in the fall ( of 2015) that (becoming head coach) was the route we were going to go with,” Arguelles said. “He (Rogers) had found out about his daughter’s diagnosis in the summer, but nothing was for sure. Everything was kind of up in the air, but when fall (of 2015) arrived, here we go.”
Arguelles was promptly promoted to the head coaching position amid the uncertainty that lingered around the team’s prospects, and he began making necessary changes to the lineups and strategies that fit with his team concept.
“Throughout the whole season, being in that conference (OEC), I’ve said it year after year, just making the playoffs prepares you for a tough environment,” Arguelles said. “We’ve had seven teams make the playoffs in a single season. Anything can happen.”
RCC started the season on a roll, going on a seven game winning streak and ending February with a 9-2 record, establishing themselves as immediate contenders. On field chemistry was at an all time high, highlighted by a decisive 13-7 victory against Mt. San Jacinto Feb. 27 that included four players scoring two or more runs in the same game.
March was a different matter altogether. A 17-4 loss to No.1 Saddleback was the worst of the season, and started a five game losing streak that threatened to dash the team’s playoff hopes.
“That was a big meltdown for us, and it came after a big win (against Saddleback) to open the conference games,” Arguelles said. “During the regular season, we knew of all the teams we faced, they were the best.”
While the Tigers were on the road, the team’s clubhouse was burglarized, and valuable equipment was stolen. Times were getting tough, and the players rallied around each other for support through adverse situations.
“With any successful (situation), there will always be stories of (people) overcoming adversity,” Arguelles said. “It happened over a weekend toward the end of the season, we only had two weeks left. We showed up Monday and found out that our clubhouse had been burglarized, and it (left everyone) with an ugly feeling.”
The players and staff did not use that situation as an excuse for a letdown, instead it galvanized unbridled determination to succeed at all costs, and they used the games as opportunities to cement their firm dedication to winning.
“Being violated was the initial feeling in the beginning, when the police show up to file a report, and you realize how much property was missing,” Arguelles said in regards to team morale after the burglary. “Who would do that to a community college starving to survive from a budget standpoint? A lot of the items (in some cases) had to be purchased by players alone.”
They also got some extra help along the way from local NBC affiliates who broadcasted the incident on television.
Though the Tigers’ championship aspirations came up short, they displayed the tenacity and mental fortitude that could bring a state title next season.