The Vanguard University baseball team is off to a 5-0 start and second-year coach Rob Pegg said the Lions' willingness to play for each other is one big reason why.
But the Lions' fifth victory, a 3-2 triumph over Arizona Christian in Vanguard's Golden State Athletic Conference opener on Friday, was due in large part to the visiting Firestorm's willingness to also play for the Lions.
Arizona Christian (1-3 overall and in conference) committed three costly errors that led to three unearned runs to give Vanguard pitchers Eddie Rivera and Marshall McKinnon just enough to keep the Lions unbeaten.
Rivera, a senior transfer from Saint Catherine College in Kentucky, by way of Fullerton Community College, did most of the heavy lifting for the hosts. He allowed seven hits in 7 2/3 innings, striking out six and walking two to earn his first win as a Lion.
Rivera showed toughness by leaving a leadoff triple stranded in the second inning and escaping unscathed in the fourth, when the Firestorm had two on with one out. Rivera surrendered a solo home run in the fifth and may have been tiring in the seventh when Arizona Christian used three singles to score its final run and chase the 6-foot, 180-pound right-hander from the game.
McKinnon, who has not allowed a run in nine relief innings this season, got the final four outs for his first save.
"That's two great back-to-back outings for us to set the tone for the weekend," Pegg said of Rivera, who allowed two earned runs in seven innings of the Lions' 3-2 win in 13 innings on Jan. 24. "He is a competitor, a guy you love to give the ball to because he wants it and he gets excited every time he's been out there."
Rivera said he is excited to be back in Orange County after going 7-2 with a 1.69 earned-run average and striking out 76 in 69 1/3 innings for the Kentucky-based NAIA program last season.
"I love it here," Rivera said after pocketing his first victory in 2014. "The people are awesome and we're playing well, so I love it."
Vanguard backed Rivera with strong defense, particularly by shortstop Nick Rodda, a senior transfer from Division II Valdosta State, and opportunistic offense.
The Lions, who averaged 11.3 runs in their first four games and entered Friday batting .335 as a team, managed just three hits, all singles, against Arizona Christian starter Ismael Castro. And only one of those hits figured in the scoring for the hosts.
In the Vanguard third inning, Greg Younger led off with a walk and advanced to second when Rodda's sacrifice bunt attempt was fielded and thrown wildly to second by Castro. Brandon Sandoval followed with another sacrifice bunt attempt, which Castro fielded and threw to first. But second baseman Kenny Zuvela failed to reach the bag to absorb the second error in as many plays, and Sandoval was called safe to load the bases.
Thomas Mobley and Bret Collins followed with run-scoring groundouts to put the hosts up, 2-0. It was the ninth RBI of the young season for Collins, who was 12 for 17 in his first four games (a .706 average).
Vanguard made it 3-0 in the fourth when Castro fielded a swinging bunt by Taylor McKnight and threw wildly to first, allowing McKnight to reach second base. After senior right fielder John Schwer laced the second of his two singles to left to put runners on the corners, McKnight scored when Jack Daru hit into a double play.
"You expect to win the close ones and every run matters," said Pegg, whose team has committed just one error Friday, to give it six for the season, well shy of the opponents' 17 miscues. "You have to take care of the baseball. And, we were able to capitalize on their mistakes. If you get good pitching and defense, you will give yourself a shot to win and that's what happened today."
Younger had the only other hit for the winners, who have three one-run victories this season.
The Lions, whose longest winning streak last season was five games, plays host to Arizona Christian in a doubleheader beginning Saturday at 11 a.m.
Golden State Athletic Conference
Vanguard 3, Arizona Christian 2
SCORE BY INNINGS
AC 000 010 010 – 2 7 3
VU 002 100 00x – 3 3 1
Castro and Hartman; Rivera, McKinnon (8) and Daru. W – Rivera, 1-0. L – Castro, 0-1. Sv – McKinnon (1). 2B – Santor (AC). 3B – Walamatsu (AC). HR – Stokey (AC).