With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, catcher Matt Rice seized the moment and lined a walk-off home run over the right-center field fence to give the Pasadena City College baseball team a 2-1 victory over East Los Angeles on Saturday. Once again, the Lancers have pulled themselves back into a tie with the Huskies for first place in the South Coast Conference.
The state #11-ranked Lancers improved to 16-7 overall and reached the conference's halfway mark at 8-4, the same as #24 ELAC (12-11 overall).
Rice, who didn't enter the game until the eighth inning as a defensive replacement, has played in a platoon with fellow catcher Matthew Delgado and the freshman has hit safely in his last eight games to raise his batting average to .429. Delgado (.263), who was 1-for-2 with a hit-by-pitch at the plate, supplied strong defense behind the dish including gunning out his seventh runner attempting to steal this season in the seventh inning.
His caught stealing of Eduardo Sanchez, who singled, proved to be a huge moment. Sanchez became the second out, but the next hitter Richard Ponce lined a ground-rule, double down the left field line that would have scored Sanchez had he stolen second and given ELAC a 2-1 lead.
For the fourth time in four attempts, the Lancers won a 3-game SCC series, 2-1. In all four cases, PCC won the key Saturday finale. The Lancers are 10-3 at their off-campus, home diamond--Brookside Park's Jackie Robinson Memorial Field.
PCC head coach Pat McGee said, "We've had a number of clutch hits this season, but that was the first time I've ever coached a win decided by a walk-off home run. When you consider the stakes at play, the fear of falling two games back, and the fact we were coming off the heels of a tough 10-inning loss on Thursday, Rice's homer was easily the biggest hit of the season."
The Lancers pitching staff stepped up with starter Coleman Mitchell hurling seven strong innings, scattering seven hits, walking no one, striking out six and allowing just an unearned run in the sixth. With a runner on third and two outs, Mitchell appeared to be out of the inning but third baseman Toshiki Kuriya misplayed a grounder by Ruben Hernandez for an error and a 1-0 ELAC lead. Reliever and winning pitcher Nicolas Day (3-1) pitched two no-hit innings and erased the only runner allowed to reach (an error) with a pick-off in the eighth.
Pasadena tied the game in the bottom of the sixth. Rightfielder Kenny Kim was hit by a pitch and first baseman Jake Trabbie followed with a single to right. Designated hitter Jakob Guardado lined a drive for an out in left-center that moved Kim to third base. Second baseman Andrew Scannell then lifted a sacrifice fly to center that scored Kim to tie it at 1-1.
On Thursday, ELAC handed the Lancers a 4-3 loss in 10 innings. Blessinger was 3-for-5 and his RBI single in the sixth tied it at 3-3. Kuriya had a big game by going 2-for-3, drawing two walks, and giving PCC an early 1-0 lead on a RBI single in the second inning. The hard-luck losing pitcher was long reliever Benny Olguin, who allowed two unearned runs over 6.1 innings, holding the Huskies bats to five hits, allowing three walks and recording seven Ks.
With runners on first and third in the bottom of the 10th, ELAC won it when Daniel Vierra hit a grounder to short, but Isaac Luevano's fielder's choice throw to the plate went over the head of Rice for a walk-off error.
On the hard-fought final two games of the series, McGee said, "East LA is a team that's not going to give you anything. They play good defense and they also take what's given them. We've been a resilient team, though. Our pitching has helped us get to first place. Offensively, we have been a little inconsistent and a maybe a little too reliant on our big hitters. Coming off a lost season due to the pandemic, and a shortened year in 2020 (played 20 games), to be in first at this point of the season is a huge achievement."
The Lancers will take their bye week in the 9-team, South Coast Conference next week. PCC will play a home-and-home against Victor Valley College (at VVC, Tuesday, Mar. 22, and at home on Thursday, Mar. 24) and then travel to face state #8-ranked Palomar on Saturday, Mar. 26.
TELLO, BLESSINGER SOCAL CO-PLAYERS OF THE WEEK #7
The California Community College Baseball Coaches Association (CCCBCA) selected both Tello and Blessinger as South Region Players of the Week (along with Palomar's Devlin Lindeman) for their performances in the week of March 7-13. Tello currently tied for the state lead in hits with 44 while Blessinger is the state leader in runs scored, tied at 33.
Click the link for their stats for the week: