It was arm discomfort that prompted Cypress College baseball coach Scott Pickler to shuffle his pitching ace from a scheduled start Thursday against Orange Coast to Saturday.
For Orange Coast ace David Hill, who awoke Thursday with a slight illness, it was a sore spot of a different variety that helped him talk Pirates Coach John Altobelli into giving him the ball against the visiting Chargers.
"[Altobelli] mentioned maybe having me go Saturday instead, but I said 'No way!'" said Hill, who allowed one run and six hits in 10 innings but took a no-decision in Cypress' 2-1 win in 13 innings on Feb. 27 at OCC. "I said 'Give me the ball and let me throw against these guys and we'll get two out of three."
Hill came through on his vow, throwing his first complete game of the season to key a 4-2 Orange Empire Conference win. The triumph allowed OCC (18-5, 6-3 in conference), ranked No. 1 in Southern California, to take the season series against the defending state champions (12-10, 5-4), ranked No. 9 in Southern California.
"It was a bulldog performance," Altobelli said of Hill's sixth win in as many decisions this season, in which he allowed six hits and two runs, both earned, and struck out seven. The two earned runs are news, as they give the sophomore Long Beach State bounce-back just six earned runs allowed in 57 2/3 innings this season (raising his earned-run average from 0.74 to 0.94). "He was his old dominant self, even though he was a little flat with his arm angle."
The OCC offense, which had outscored teams, 23-2, in two previous games, including a 12-1 win at Cypress on Tuesday, was anything but flat early against substitute starter Jaret Vermillion. OCC sophomore center fielder Cody Bruder opened the game with a triple into the right-field corner and scored on a sacrifice fly by freshman second baseman L. Grant Davis.
Sophomore shortstop Cody Nulph followed with a single, moved to second when sophomore first baseman Chris Iriart was hit by a pitch, and both moved up one base on a wild pitch. Sophomore right fielder Tommy Bell then lifted a sacrifice fly to right to plate Nulph and stake Hill to a 2-0 cushion.
After back-to-back doubles to start the Cypress second halved the deficit, OCC loaded the bases with no outs in the second. But Cypress reliever Matt Esparza, who worked four shutout innings to get the win in the aforementioned 13-inning game, recorded a strikeout and a 4-6-3 double play to escape the threat unscathed.
Sophomore designated hitter Ryan Perez singled to start the OCC fourth and sophomore catcher Daniel Delaney followed with a hit-and-run single just over a leaping shortstop to put runners at the corners. A wild pitch allowed Perez to score and, after freshman third baseman Jake Thumm's sacrifice bunt moved Delaney to third, freshman left fielder Robert Longtree singled to right to drive him in and give Hill a 4-1 lead.
Cypress produced one run in the sixth on a leadoff single, a walk, a sacrifice bunt and a sacrifice fly, but just as he had in the second inning, Hill stranded a runner on third base.
"They had a couple of rallies and [Hill] held them to one run both times, which I thought was absolutely huge," Altobelli said. "The damage control on his part was great."
Hill retired 10 straight, spanning the sixth to the ninth innings, and induced a groundout with the tying runs aboard in the ninth to finish out a 112-pitch effort.
"I absolutely want to go the distance every start," said Hill, who noted that his illness was no excuse to perform less than his best. "I feel like I still have even more in me right now."
Hill said the culture at OCC has helped him get even more out of his ability than he did at Long Beach State, where he was 4-2 with a 4.05 ERA in 66 2/3 innings, including 11 starts.
"I rediscovered baseball here," said Hill, one of three OCC starters who have now combined for 16 of the team's 18 wins (Jacob Hill is 6-0 with an ERA of 0.50 and Art Vidro is 4-1 with a 1.65 ERA). "The atmosphere created by [Altobelli] and just the way the guys are, lets us all have fun. It's fun baseball."
Hill, who said he was disappointed when he learned Thursday morning that Cypress sophomore Seven Kane, the conference and state pitcher of the year last season who allowed two hits and no earned runs in nine innings of the Feb. 27 clash, would not be taking the mound. But it did not affect his resolve.
"I still prepare the same way, just to play a faceless opponent," said Hill, who acknowledged he enjoys pitching out of difficult situations.
"I don't really get rattled at all [with runners on base]," Hill said. "To me, it gets more fun to shut them down, when their bench gets loud. That's the fun part; to shut them up. I love that."
Pickler said it was his decision to bump Kane.
"Kane had some soreness, so I moved him to Saturday," Pickler said. "He wanted the ball [Thursday]."
Bell was two for three, while Bruner and Delaney were both two for four to help the Pirates produce 10 hits.
OCC, in a three-way tie for second place with Santa Ana and Saddleback, is one game behind defending conference champion Fullerton with 12 conference games left. The Pirates play host to Santa Ana on Saturday at noon.
Orange Empire Conference
Orange Coast 4, Cypress 2
Cypress 010 001 000 – 2 6 0
OCC 200 200 00x – 4 10 0
Vermillion, Esparza (2), and Miller, Morones (5); D. Hill and Delaney. W – D. Hill, 6-0. L – Vermillion, 1-1. 2B – Ferrell (C), Meleski (C). 3B – Bruder (OCC).