FRESNO — It often takes more than talent to win a championship, which the Orange Coast College baseball team is somewhat counting on this weekend.
The Pirates lost sophomore pitching ace David Hill to a sprained ankle in practice on Thursday and his twin brother Jacob Hill, who made up the other half of the dual Orange Empire Conference Pitcher of the Year honorees, was also unavailable Saturday with a balky left pitching elbow.
But OCC's most valuable postseason pitcher, freshman Art Vidro, battled his way to a fourth playoff win in as many starts.
And scrappy sophomore second baseman L. Grant Davis was involved in crucial plays on offense and defense to key a 3-1 win over College of Sequoias in the first round of the four-team California Community College Athletic Assn. state tournament at Fresno City College.
The victory puts the Pirates (34-9) into the winner's bracket semifinal on Sunday at 2 p.m. against San Joaquin Delta, which topped Oxnard, 5-4, in the first game on Saturday.
Vidro, who had allowed one earned run in 19 2/3 innings in his three previous playoff wins while filling in for Jacob Hill on the second day of three straight best-of-three series, allowed three hits and one run in seven innings against COS (33-12).
Vidro tied his single-game high with four walks and was seemingly behind a majority of hitters en route to his eighth win in 11 decisions. He struck out four and left four runners in scoring position in the first five innings.
Vidro, this time filling in for David Hill, threw 29 pitches in the first inning and had thrown 68 through three innings. He was much more efficient in the fourth (nine pitches), the sixth (11) and the seventh (five), which allowed him to stick around, before handing it over to Spencer Moran to start the eighth.
Moran, a sophomore transfer from Vanguard University, got some help from Davis to work out of an eighth-inning jam. Moran then left he bases loaded in the ninth to complete his fourth save.
Davis, whose aggressive baserunning gave OCC a 1-0 lead in the first inning, made the play of the game on defense in the eighth. Davis, a bounce-back from Arizona State who will play next season at Ohio State, ranged to his right to backhand a roller up the middle with a runner on second. The COS third-base coach, gambling that a retreating Davis might make a long throw to first base, waved the runner from second toward home. But Davis spun and threw behind the runner to third base instead. Third baseman Jake Thumm then threw to catcher Daniel Delaney, who caught a low throw, lunged to apply the tag, and held onto the ball to deny what would have been the tying run and end the rally.
After reaching on the first of four Sequoias errors in the first, Davis broke for second on a hit-and-run during which a wild pitch skipped past the COS catcher. Davis aggressively motored toward third as the catcher was slow to retrieve the ball off the backstop, and when the catcher overthrew third base, Davis beat the throw home from the charging left fielder to open the scoring.
"Today, I was able to kind of step up, but it's a team effort," said Davis, who singled and scored on a sacrifice fly by sophomore first baseman Chris Iriart in the third inning to break a 1-1 tie. "We're here for a reason, because we all pull the rope together and we play aggressively as a team.
"There's a different hero every game, and that's what makes a team. Our motto is 'Pull the rope,' and that's what we seem to be doing right now, at just the right time."
Altobelli said he admired Davis' clutch contribution.
"There are probably a lot more talented guys out there, but the things I like about [Davis] are his enthusiasm and hustle, and he has the baseball savvy. That's a huge play [throwing behind the runner at third]."
It was the 13th win in a row, seven straight in the postseason, for the Pirates, for whom Coach John Altobelli said Jacob Hill is scheduled to start on Sunday. Altobelli said he would be surprised if David Hill, who stepped on a baseball at practice and rolled an ankle, is able to pitch at all in Fresno.
"Hopefully [Jacob Hill, who worked two innings in his first postseason appearance in the sectional-series-clinching win on May 17] will ready [Sunday]," Altobelli said. "We'll see what the morning brings us and how he wakes up . We need everybody to have good thoughts and hopefully he's going to be OK."
If not, Altobelli said he has contingency plans in place.
"We have other guys," said Altobelli, in search of his second state title in five seasons and the fifth in school history. "We're pretty deep with our arms and someone is going to have to step up; guys who haven't had much of a chance this season."
Freshman right fielder Tommy Bell drove in OCC's third run with a booming double off the left-center-field wall in the eighth inning. Bell was two for four to produce 40% of the Pirates' five hits.