COSTA MESA — Not long after his Orange Coast College baseball team dropped a 6-2 Orange Empire Conference game to visiting Golden West on Tuesday, Pirates Coach John Altobelli said the scoreboard may have been an understatement.
"It felt more like 14-2," Altobelli said of his team's first loss to the Rustlers (11-11, 4-5 in conference) in three meetings this season.
But the nature of the defeat is not the only element in which perception may vary from reality in the topsy-turvy OEC race that is just past the one-third mark.
Through Tuesday games, Santa Ana (14-7, 3-6), ranked No. 1 in Southern California, was in seventh place in the eight-team conference.
Orange Coast (17-7, 5-4), the defending OEC champion which leads Southern California in victories and is ranked No. 5 in SoCal, is tied for third with Saddleback.
No. 11-ranked Fullerton, which has been a conference doormat in recent years, sits atop the OEC standings at 15-6, 7-2.
Riverside, ranked No. 4 in SoCal, is in second place at 16-7, 6-3, while Cypress, ranked No. 3 in SoCal, is tied for fifth at 13-8, 4-5.
"It's a weird year," said Altobelli, who continues to shuffle his pitching staff in search of consistent success from the starters. "Fullerton is in front, but everyone else seems to be within a game or so of one another."
OCC is the top hitting team in the conference with a .295 average, yet it managed just five hits against the Rustlers, who rank tied for last in the OEC in team earned-run average (4.05).
"Our hitters were very undisciplined today," Altobelli said. "They kept chasing the fastball up and popping up."
Golden West starter Dylan Mitchell blanked the Pirates on three hits through seven innings, benefiting greatly from eight fly balls caught by infielders.
But inefficient hitting was not the only lament for Altobelli, who called his four pitchers awful.
"We kept getting ahead in the count, but we couldn't finish anyone off," Altobelli said of the four hurlers who allowed 14 hits, walked two and struck out five.
OCC's 3.31 team ERA ranks fifth in the OEC, due largely to a succession of disappointments among starting pitchers.
Altobelli said he has turned to former relievers David Wilson and Joe Reta. whom he said will start the next two games against Cypress (Thursday at the Chargers' diamond and Friday at OCC).
"It's been a dog-and-pony show," Altobelli said of the eight pitchers who had started games for him.
Wilson and Reta have just one start apiece, but Wilson is 4-0 with two saves and an 0.86 ERA in 31 1/3 innings and Reta is 2-1 with one save and a 1.61 ERA in 22 1/3 innings.
Only Kyle Dowdy (2-1 with a 3.23 ERA) and Dallas Draviczki (2,0, 3.38), both of whom have walked 18 this season, have thrown more innings than Reta and Wilson.
A pair of offensive trends were apparent for the Pirates on Tuesday, including the continued excellence of sophomore leadoff man Zach Nehrir.
Nehrir went two for four to up his team-leading average to .384. Nehrir's 15 runs batted in are tied for third on a squad for which eight players have at least 11 RBIs.