COSTA MESA — As if it converted a March Madness buzzer-beater before halftime, the Orange Coast College baseball team seized itself some momentum, confidence and peace of mind on Friday before an extended intermission in the Orange Empire Conference schedule.
With their next game 12 days away, following spring break next week, the Pirates posted an 8-0 conference win over visiting Cypress that was even more impressive for its thorough efficiency than its lopsided margin.
"We needed it," said OCC Coach John Altobelli, whose squad fell to the Chargers, 2-1, on the road on Thursday to make their record against Cypress 0-2 this season. "Especially after the tough loss Thursday. To come back 24 hours later and do what we did ... "
The win improved the defending conference champions, ranked No. 5 in Southern California, to 18-8, 6-5 in conference. They are tied for second place with No. 4 Riverside and No. 9 Saddleback, three games behind surprising No. 11-ranked Fullerton, and one game ahead of both No. 3 Cypress and No. 1 Santa Ana.
Friday, OCC used offense, defense and pitching to overwhelm the Chargers and avert its first three-game losing streak in at least three seasons.
Freshman Joe Reta and sophomore Kyle Dowdy combined on the eight-hit shutout, with Dowdy allowing just two hits in 4 2/3 innings to earn the victory and improve to 3-1. Reta left the bases loaded in the fourth to protect what then was a 2-0 lead.
The defense was sparkling all over the diamond, as shortstop Greg Espinoza, third baseman Manny Argomaniz and second baseman Ricky Navarro all posted web gems to help Cypress (14-9, 5-6) strand eight.
It was OCC's second shutout of the season, but its second in six games.
Offensively, sophomore center fielder Zach Nehrir and Espinoza, a freshman, both went three for four with a run batted in and one run scored to lead the hosts.
Freshman designated hitter Christian Salina and freshman left fielder Cody Bruder had two hits apiece and scored once, while Salina added an RBI to lead the 13-hit attack.
Sophomore first baseman Danny Jiminez drove in three runs and scored once, while Argomaniz had two RBIs and a run, matched Jiminez's one-for-four day at the plate.
The hitting display should bolster the confidence of a lineup that had produced just six combined runs and a .190 batting average in its previous three games.
"The offense has been asleep, but we woke up today," said Nehrir, who also praised his team's pitching and defense.
"Dowdy pitched really well and we had some balls hit hard at our infielders that I honestly didn't expect them to make the play on, but they did," Nehrir said.
OCC turned three double plays, the most impressive coming in the fourth inning, when Argomaniz snagged Blake Davey's sizzling one-hopper before going around the horn to help deny the Chargers in an inning in which they had three hits and one walk.
"Our defense has been the steadiest part of our game," Altobelli said. "Our pitching has had its up and downs, and so has our offense."
OCC used two-out hits to score two runs in the third and fourth innings. Argomaniz singled in two to open the scoring, while Espinoza and Nehrir had back-to-back RBI singles to double the lead in the fourth.
OCC scored a run without a hit in the fifth as Jiminez plated freshman right fielder Austin Saenz with a sacrifice fly.
Back-to-back two-out doubles by Jiminez and Salina drove in three combined runs in the seventh and Dowdy closed the door after Reta allowed six hits before exiting in the fifth.
"[Dowdy] has kind of been working on some things mechanically not to overthrow and its paying off for him," Altobelli said of the transfer from Hawaii, who shares the team lead with 18 walks, but did not issue a walk on Thursday.