The SoCal No. 14-ranked Pasadena City College baseball team recovered from Tuesday's walk-off, last out loss by knotting its series with Rio Hondo, defeating the Roadrunners, 10-4, on Thursday. The Lancers continued their outstanding home play this year at Brookside Park's Jackie Robinson Memorial Field at 11-5 overall and extended their first place lead in the South Coast Conference North Division to 1-1/2 games over both Rio Hondo and Chaffey.
PCC is 17-10 and now 9-6 in conference games as the two second-place teams are each 8-8 and two games behind the Lancers in the loss column. There are seven games left in the conference season as talk of a possible conference title and a postseason playoff berth are buzzing around campus.
It's been 45 years since a Lancers baseball team last won a conference title in 1972, then the Metropolitan crown under PCC Hall of Fame coach Ron Robinson. Robinson also is the last Lancers coach to win a state championship in 1967 when future Major League Baseball 400 home run slugger Darrell Evans led the Lancers to the crown. Evans is honored with a bronze bust of his likeness in PCC's prestigious Court of Champions.
Third-year PCC head coach Pat McGee has improved a program that won just four games in 2014 prior to his arrival. The Lancers won 10 games in 2015, then 13 last year, and now are becoming a force among SCC teams in 2017.
In the Rio Hondo win, PCC continued a hitting binge over the past three games that has seen the Lancers score in double digits in each, scoring 37 runs on 49 hits. Sophomore first baseman Jeremy Conant led the attack batting 3-for-3 with two walks, including a RBI bomb double that hit the base of the RF wall in the third inning. He is currently second in the state in batting with a .471 average and is fifth in on-base percentage at .543.
Leftfielder Jared Esquivel hit a hard grounder that took a bad hop past the shortstop and resulted in a 2-RBI double in the fourth inning. Esquivel finished with three RBI and was 1-for-3 with a sacrifice fly. Rightfielder Shane Ogata is one of several Lancers on batting bonanzas. He went 3-for-5 with a triple and two RBI. Over his past seven games, Ogata is hitting .406 (13-for-32) with 11 runs scored. He has triples in consecutive games v. Rio Hondo. He has a .333 average overall.
Letterman shortstop Alex Briggs went 2-for-4 and is now 7-for-10 in this series. Nico Martinez, normally an outfielder, made his first start at third base and shined as he went 2-for-4 with a double and made two sparkling defensive plays.
The offense was appreciated by PCC's ace righthander Race Gardner, who improved to 4-2, by pitching seven innings, allowing just six hits and two runs. The Lancers' three pitchers (John Mendoza and Sergio Valenzuela closed) combined for a baseball rarity as they did not walk a batter or strike out a batter during Rio Hondo's 27 outs.
"We used aggressive baserunning and timely swings to help manufacture runs," McGee said. "Our starting pitching has been very good in conference play and Race once again threw strikes and let his defense take care of him. We finally seem to be hitting the ball well as a team. All of these factors are contributing to why we are now battling for the conference title. We just have to keep it going, one game at a time."
The series finale takes place on Saturday, April 8 in a 12 pm start at Rio Hondo College.