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Coast To Coast

Coast To Coast

Thursday, July 17, 2014

FRESNO -- In a year of near issue-free baseball, a serious problem now plagues Orange Coast College head coach John Altobelli – which slogan will be etched into the Pirates’ state championship ring. “We've got a few to choose from,” Altobelli joked.

It’s a good problem to have for Altobelli and his newly-crowned, state-champion Pirate baseball program, which swept through the competition and capped off the school’s fifth baseball title with a 5-3 win over San Joaquin Delta on Monday at the California Community College Baseball State Championship, held at Fresno City College's John Euless Ballpark.

“These guys bought into what we were trying to accomplish and we all began to ‘pull on the rope’ together,” Altobelli said, using one of the aforementioned slogans. “Late in the season, we lost a couple games in a row and we brought the guys in and talked about our year in 2009 (OCC’s last state title) and talked about ‘dreaming big,’ like those guys did. Once we all came together, nothing could stop us. Fifteen games and 15 wins later, here we are.”

That meeting, held when the Pirates were 21-9 and stuck in the
middle of the Orange Empire Conference standings following back-to-back losses. From there, OCC went a perfect 15-0, claimed a piece of the OEC title and swept three playoff series before sweeping the State Final Four.
“We told them about our former player Jordan Watanabe (late son of assistant coach Kent Watanabe and former OCC catcher who died early in the 2009 season) and even though these guys didn’t know him, they all understood the message, which was everyone going all-in the rest of the season. I told them he wore No. 22 and I told them with this being my 22nd year as head coach, I wanted this year to be special.”

Mission accomplished for the Pirates, who finished this year the same as 2009 – with a massive dogpile atop the infield grass of John Euless Ballpark following a state championship victory over the Mustangs.

Coast (36-9) gained further inspiration with the return of sophomore right-hander David Hill, who rolled his left ankle severely after stepping on a baseball the day before the team headed to Fresno and was very doubtful for seeing any action during the State Final Four.

But Hill underwent relentless treatment throughout the weekend and after a bullpen session on Sunday, he felt fit enough to give it a shot on Monday. Hill went out and held the Mustangs (35-11) to three runs (two earned) over seven innings. He gave up 11 hits, but did not walk a batter and struck out seven in his 94-pitch performance in 100-degree Fresno weather.

“First Jacob and now David,” Altobelli said, referring to Sunday’s strong start by twin brother Jacob Hill, who also overcame a late-season injury to help the Pirates reach the title game. “There were plenty of heroes throughout the season, but those two guys were our foundation and they came through time and time again.”

David Hill’s three runs allowed came in the first two innings as Delta grabbed a 3-0 lead, but the Pirates responded in the top of the third to plate a pair of runs.

Jake Thumm led off with a walk and Robert Longtree was hit by a pitch, putting runners on first and second with nobody out. Cody Bruder followed with a grounder to third, but the Delta fielder air-mailed his throw to second, allowing Thumm to come around and score, cutting the Mustangs' lead to 3-1.
With runners on first and third, Cody Nulph reached on a fielder’s choice, allowing Longtree to score so despite a hitless frame, the Pirates trailed by just a run at 3-2.

With one out in the top of the fifth inning, a one-out walk by L. Grant Davis was followed by a single by Nulph, which capped off his Coast career with a 30-game hit streak. After a wild pitch moved up both runners, Chris Iriart came through with a two-run single to left, putting Coast ahead, 4-3.

That would prove to be enough for Hill, who did what he’s done all season long – pitch better with runners on base. In the bottom of the sixth, a pair of singles put runners on first and third with two outs and Hill went 3-0 on pinch-hitter Jelani Davie. But the University of San Diego-bound standout responded with three straight strikes – all looking by Davie – to end the threat.

The Pirates, who were actually outhit by the Mustangs, 11-4, again used some erratic pitching by the Mustangs to plate another run. Longtree led off with a walk, advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Bruder and used a pair of wild pitches to come all the way around to score OCC's fifth run.

Reliever Dominic Purpura threw the final two innings and retired all six batters he faced for his second save of the year, capped off with a championship-clinching strikeout to end the game.

Freshman lefty Art Vidro, helped Coast throughout the playoffs with with four wins in four starts, was named the State Tournament MVP after his opening-round victory over the College of the Sequoias on Saturday.

The baseball state title was the third state title for Orange Coast this school year, joining women’s cross country and men’s volleyball. It is the 86th state/national title in school history.© 2012 Orange Coast College