The Vanguard University baseball team that had won 13 of its previous 17 games, climbed to the No. 14 national ranking, and landed in second place in the Golden State Athletic Conference, was largely missing in action on Wednesday.
Coach Rob Pegg's Lions, who are two games behind San Diego Christian heading into a three-game road series with the No. 6-ranked Hawks beginning Friday, were hardly themselves in a 7-3 nonconference loss to the Cougars.
Vanguard (26-14) ranks No. 2 in the GSAC in fielding (.974), but made four errors on Wednesday, including three in a disastrous second inning in which San Marcos scored four runs, three unearned. Another bobble on an apparent single to center field that appeared to allow a runner to reach second, could have easily been ruled an error, but was not.
Lions' starting pitcher Richard Perry, a senior right-hander, entered the game ranked 10th in the GSAC in earned-run average (3.40 in 11 appearances against GSAC foes), gave up eight hits and two earned runs (five overall) in four innings to fall to 3-3. Perry, who did some admirable damage control by stranding runners at second and third with no outs in the third inning and leaving a leadoff double holding the bag in the first, saw his overall ERA increase from 3.88 to 3.93.
And while the Vanguard offense did its share with 10 hits, including at least one from seven starters, it left 10 men on base, had a runner thrown out at the plate and another runner gunned down at third (both on singles to the outfield).
Further, Lions pinch-runner Justin Davis appeared to have a golden opportunity to score from third on a bouncing ball to the second baseman, on which he held, with one out in the eight inning. The would-be run, which would have cut the deficit to 6-4 at the time, was left unclaimed when the next hitter flew out to end the inning.
"We just weren't sharp," said Pegg, who did have positives to point toward, including a handful of defensive gems, senior catcher John Collins' three-for-four day at the plate, and some quality relief pitching (two runs allowed in five combined innings). "We had three miscues consecutively in the one inning and [the Cougars] capitalized. And we made a few mistakes on the basepaths, too. It was one of those days that happen. You'd rather it to happened in a nonconference game than a conference game, but you'd rather it not happen at all."
San Marcos' Denny Vigo opened the second inning with a home run to left field that both Vanguard outfielders chasing the ball reacted as if it caromed off the top of the fence. It was ruled a home run, however, and three subsequent singles in the inning cashed in the aforementioned errors.
A pair of doubles (half of the visitors' 12 hits were for extra-bases) gave the Cougars a 5-0 cushion in the fourth and the Cougars added single runs in the fifth and ninth innings.
Vanguard scored single runs in the fourth, fifth and sixth to whittle into the lead, but left at least one runner on base in eight innings.
John Schwer was thrown out by San Marcos center fielder Noah Buchanan as he tried to score from second on a single up the middle by Taylor McKnight in the fourth inning.
Thomas Mobley was thrown out trying to motor from first to third on a bloop single to left field by Schwer that drove in a run in the fifth.
Vanguard junior reliever Sam Frakes retired the side in order in the sixth and seventh and compiled 2 2/3 scoreless innings in which he allowed just one hit.
Christian Sheehan allowed one run in 1 1/3 innings and Johnny Fageaux surrendered a run in his only inning in the ninth.
Schwer laid out to make a diving catch of a sinking line drive in right field in the sixth inning and shortstop Nick Rodda charged and barehanded, then threw seamlessly to first for the out on a slow bouncer in the seventh to highlight the Lions' defensive sparklers.
Second baseman McKnight also ranged to his left to cut off a would-be single and throw the batter out from the outfield grass in the third inning, and third baseman Greg Younger made a nifty play to deny a hit in the seventh to add to the Vanguard web gems.
Junior designated hitter Bret Collins was two for four, while John Collins and first baseman Ian Sakry had RBI singles for the Lions.
Now, the Lions, who have lost two in a row after winning 13 of their previous 16 — a stint that included winning streaks of five and four (twice) — point toward the crucial final nine conference games that also include three-game series against sixth-place Biola (April 16 and 17 at home) and fourth-place, No. 18-ranked Concordia (April 25 and 26 at home).
Vanguard has one nonconference game remaining, at home against Bethesda University of California on April 22.
"It's exciting," said Pegg, in his second season at the helm. "This last quarter of the season is big. These [Lions' players] have set a good tone in what they wanted to do. The big focus was on making the playoffs [one of nine five-team regionals from which the winners advance to join host Lewis-Clark State in the 10-team NAIA World Series in Idaho] and we have given ourselves a shot. Now, the goal is to keep the focus on pitch-to-pitch and not worry about the other stuff. If you start worrying about the big picture, you lose the details in between."
Junior pitcher Kyle Montiel allowed two earned runs in eight innings to improve to 6-1 for San Marcos, which has won seven straight and is now 22-14.
Cal State San Marcos 7, Vanguard 3
SCORE BY INNINGS
CSSM 040 110 001 – 7 12 3
VU 000 111 000 – 3 10 4
Montiel, Hertzman (9) and Montanez; Perry, Sheehan (5), Frakes (6), Fageau (9) and J. Collins. W –
Montiel, 6-1. L – Perry, 3-3. 2B – Bernard (CSSM) 2, Bentsen (CSSM), N. Buchanan (CSSM), Vigo (CSSM). HR – Vigo (CCSM).