In his first two seasons, Pasadena City College baseball head coach Pat McGee saw his teams struggle against veteran-coached programs like Cerritos and Long Beach City Colleges. The Lancers were winless at 0-12 in their matchups v. the two colleges in McGee's first two seasons. That was then as the tide is turning for PCC in McGee's season No. 3.
The Lancers first ended its 0-7 jinx v. Cerritos on Tuesday, and on Thursday, it was Long Beach's turn to suffer a defeat at the hands of PCC. Stalwart pitching from starter Race Gardner and reliever Sergio Valenzuela and aggressive baserunning that manufactured runs allowed PCC to down the Vikings, 3-2, at Brookside Park's Jackie Robinson Memorial Field.
Pasadena has won four of its last five South Coast Conference games and improved to 12-7 overall and is in a 3-way tie for first place in the North Division standings at 4-3 (tied with Chaffey and East Los Angeles). It was the sixth 1-run game the team has been involved in and the Lancers are 4-2 in those contests. Coach McGee is one win away from matching PCC's win total of all of last season (13).
Trailing 1-0 in the bottom of the third, PCC loaded the bases on a walk to leftfielder Tanner Whitlock, a single by catcher Jessie Garcia, and a hit by pitch of shortstop Alex Briggs. SoCal region-leading hitter and first baseman Jeremy Conant then lined a ball near the left-center gap that was caught on a dive by LBCC centerfielder Ian Konek. While Konek got up to show the umpire that he didn't trap the catch against the grass, McGee, coaching third, not only sent to the plate lead runner Whitlock but had Garcia storming home as well from second base. The rare, 2-RBI sacrifice fly gave PCC a 2-1 lead.
Gardner held that lead until the eighth when Vincent Byrd II lined a single past Conant and a draw-in infield that scored Tony Monroy (who had doubled) from third base that tied it for LBCC at 2-2. Gardner left the game allowing just seven hits and two runs over 7.1 innings.
In the bottom of the eighth, Pasadena answered with the go-ahead run. Garcia drew a lead-off walk and a sac bunt by Briggs moved him to second. Long Beach head coach Casey Crook decided to intentionally walk Conant. After a wild pitch, Crook called for another IBB, this time to third baseman Jose Jimenez, that loaded the bases. Second baseman Andres Kim then knocked in the GW RBI on a sac fly to center that scored Garcia.
In the ninth, Valenzuela gave up a double to pinch hitter Rob Barham. But with the potential tying run in scoring position, the righty reliever recorded the next three outs in order to preserve the mound (2-1) and team victory. Valenzuela pitched 1.2 innings of shutout relief. LBCC starter Josh Agnew (5-3) was the hard-luck loser, throwing a complete game and allowing the Lancers only four hits (and five walks, one HBP).
"We're plugging away, and we're approaching things one game at a time," McGee said. "The past is what it is, the past. We're all about moving forward and winning games. That we beat Cerritos and Long Beach is good for the program, but we are not looking at our opponents like they are better than us. The players are believing in themselves right now."
While Conant leads the region in batting (.471), he now trails Ohlone's Ryan Ruley (.477) for the state lead.
PCC finishes its 2-game series at Long Beach (10-10-1, 3-4 in the SCC South Division) on Saturday, Mar. 18 in a 12 p.m. first pitch.