BAKERSFIELD — Only seven times in 44 games this season did Orange Coast College baseball Coach John Altobelli have to address his players after a loss. But when it came time to speak from the heart after being eliminated from the California Community College Athletic Assn. State Championship on Saturday, the words he delivered to his team were as obvious as they were true.
"I told them that we loved them," Altobelli said of the aftermath of a 5-4 defeat in 12 innings to Rio Hondo in the four-team, double-elimination tournament at Bakersfield Community College.
The loss, combined with a 4-0 defeat at the hands of Sierra on Friday, ended OCC's season and detonated what had been one of the most talented and successful Pirates rosters ever assembled.
No fewer than nine Pirates have already made commitments to four-year college programs, and likely a few more will be accept invitations offered by four-year recruiters. A handful of Pirates figure to be selected by Major League teams in the June draft.
The 2012 squad (36-7-1) earned the school's first outright Orange Empire Conference title since 1987. It finished one win shy of equaling the school single-season record set by the 2009 state champions. Its .830 winning percentage was the best since 1957 and ranks third in the program's 64 seasons. The 18 conference wins were the most in the 26 seasons the Pirates have been competing in the Orange Empire Conference.
Sophomore Chris Carlson, the OEC Player of the Year, hit .421 with seven homers and 43 runs batted in and capped his two-year career with 83 RBIs and 10 homers. The outfielder is bound for New Mexico State
Starting pitchers Brandon Brennan (11-1) and Keegan Yuhl (11-2 with two saves) combined for the most wins in the same season by any one-two punch ever at OCC. Brennan, who battled into the 11th inning Saturday, finished with a 1.25 earned-run average, which ranks No. 4 all-time among those who worked at least 50 innings in a season.
Yuhl, the OEC Pitcher of the Year, is bound for New Mexico State, while Brennan has committed to the University of Houston.
Freshman leadoff man and center fielder Boog Powell finished with 75 hits, tied for third in the school single-season annals, and hit .398 with 49 runs.
Freshman Bijan Rademacher hit .349 with seven homers, 49 RBIs and, after he volunteered his blue-chip left arm to join the bullpen, collected four saves. He has committed to Oral Roberts.
Sophomores Joel Licon, who singled in the go-ahead run in the 11th against Rio Hondo (39-4), Stefan Sabol, Trent Woodward, Bryan Garza and Eilert Meyers, as well as freshman Justin Broussard, are other regulars who helped the Pirates own the No. 1 ranking in one national poll for much of the season.
Licon (Liberty University), Sabol (Oklahoma State) and Woodward (Fresno State) all have future collegiate homes.
The end came unexpectedly early, even though OCC drew a Rio Hondo squad that had seen its 33-game winning streak halted in Friday's opening round.
The two teams, who ranked among the state leaders in several team and individual categories, combined for a classic.
"That would have been awesome if that was the state final," Altobelli said.
The Pirates created and lost leads of 2-0, 3-2 and 4-3, as the Roadrunners kept battling back.
Brennan, who in his previous five appearances during the last six weeks had gone 5-0 and allowed just two earned runs in 36 innings, saw his 23-inning scoreless streak end in the fifth, when a walk, two hits and an error helped Rio Hondo pull even at 2.
One of those runs was unearned, as was the Roadrunners' tally in the sixth, after Woodward's first homer of the season gave OCC a 3-2 advantage in the top of the inning.
Brennan was later charged with another run in the 11th, after Licon's RBI single broke a 3-3 tie in the top of the frame. Brennan was lifted after surrendering a leadoff single, the eighth hit off the right-hander, and the runner later came around to score on Dominique Davis's RBI single off Rademacher.
Brennan, who left reluctantly after 130 pitches, was not involved in the decision.