FRESNO — San Joaquin Delta College learned on Sunday that it is probably best to let a tired arm and/or an injured infielder lie.
OCC sophomore pitcher Jacob Hill, who had thrown two innings the last month while resting a sore left arm, pitched eight strong innings in the Pirates' 4-1 victory in the winner's bracket semifinal of the California Community College Athletic Assn. state baseball championship at Fresno City College.
Sophomore first baseman Chris Iriart, who said he was heckled all game by Mustangs players in the dugout, including after he received attention from the trainer while laying prone on the infield grass after a collision with a base runner, hit a two-run home run to erase a 1-0 deficit in the third inning. Iriart, who upped his state-leading home run total to 11, also made a rally killing double play after snagging a line drive with the bases loaded in the first inning.
The win puts OCC (35-9), into Monday's championship game(s), needing just one win to clinch the program's fifth state crown, its second since 2009. The Pirates, who have now won 13 straight, including all eight of their postseason games, play against Delta, which beat College of the Sequoias in an elimination game Sunday night. Delta needs two wins to prevail in the double-elimination format. The first game begins at 11 a.m., with a second game, if necessary, to follow 30 minutes after the conclusion of the first game.
The game can be seen online at www.cccaa.org.
Hill, who walked five and hit two batters, allowed just one hit the first six innings on his way to improving to 11-0. A hit batter and a walk put a runner in scoring position for Delta in the third and Wyatt Castro singled to right to put the visitors ahead.
With one out in the first, Hill issued a walk, hit a batter, and another walk to load the bases. But Collin Theroux hit a liner to the left of Iriart, who lunged to pluck the ball off the dirt, then scrambled to the bag to double off the runner who had strayed toward second.
Iriart, whose linebacker physique and no-nonsense attitude apparently didn't keep Delta players from trying to get under his skin with verbiage, glared at the Delta dugout as he ran to the third-base dugout after the double play.
Iriart came off the bag toward home plate to catch an errant throw from third baseman Jake Thumm and apply a hard tag to the chest of CJ Owens, who was knocked toward the inside of the baseline and collided with Iriart's right leg, in the third inning. Iriart limped a couple steps toward the dugout, then sat down and eventually reclined fully on the grass. After a few minutes, he returned slowly to the dugout.
"They were chirping at me the whole first inning, then when I laid down, they were clapping," Iriart said of players in the Delta dugout.
The 6-foot-2, 230-pound slugger didn't take long to exact revenge.
After L. Grant Davis was thrown out trying to score from first on Cody Nulph's double into the left-field corner, Iriart launched Delta starter Sean Bennetts' offering over the 30-foot wall in left-center field to put the Pirates ahead for good.
Iriart was demonstrative in his home-run trot and when arriving to the plate, a display, while out of character for any Pirate, was endorsed by OCC Coach John Altobelli.
"He should have [milked it]," Altobelli said. "[Mustangs] were chirping at him, so that was kind of a good way to say, you know, [the heck with] you."
Iriart, who is second in the state with 46 runs batted in this season, including a team-best three in the two state tournament wins, said he relished the chance to deliver a big blow against the Mustangs.
"They were just talking trash," Iriart said. "[The celebration and the stare after the first-inning double play] were kind of spur of the moment. Usually I'm cool, calm and collected, but that kind of woke me up. That home run kind of just showed them that we are here to play and we mean business."
Altobelli said Hill handled his business despite being less than at his best.
"Unbelievable," Altobelli said of Hill's first start since April 24. "[The injury, which Hill identified as a cranky forearm muscle] was day-to-day and it didn't look good. There was a buzz in the stands that 'Hey, we don't have the Hill brothers [Jacob's twin and fellow Orange Empire Conference Pitcher of the Year David, a sophomore right-hander who is 10-1, sprained his ankle Thursday in practice and was listed as a long shot to pitch in Fresno]. It was big news. Then, all of a sudden, [Jacob] comes out there and, though he didn't have his greatest stuff by any means, he showed a lot of heart, which was huge."
Jacob Hill, who like his brother will pitch at the University of San Diego next season, said he was never fully comfortable.
"It was a struggle, but I got it done," Jacob Hill said. "I thought the way my arm was feeling, I was getting pretty mad that I wasn't going to be able to go out there [and pitch]. But when I played catch [Saturday] it felt OK and when I warmed up Sunday, it was good to go. So, each inning, I was like 'Let's go! One more.' It was awesome to be able to have a strong start and give my team a chance to win."