Written by: Joe Langstaff
On Saturday at home, the Mendocino College Eagles baseball team won the deciding game three of the 3-game series with Contra Costa Comets, beating the Comets 12-7 to take the series 2 games to 1. The win followed the Eagles’ 10-3 win at Contra Costa on Thursday.
With the win, the Eagles’ season record improved to 20-16 and their Bay Valley Conference record to 10-8, with one week of conference play remaining.
The 20th win elevated the Eagles into a three-way tie with the 2013 and 2002 Eagles teams which also had 20-win seasons. Both teams trail the 2001 Eagles team which won 21 games.
This week the Eagles play their final three conference games of the season in 3-game series with Yuba College; at Yuba on Tuesday, at home on Thursday and the final game of the series at Yuba on Friday.
Those games may or may not be the Eagles’ final games of the season. Depending upon the outcomes of other conference games played this week, the Eagles still have a chance to extend their season by making the state playoffs. If they should make the playoffs, it would be the first time for the program since 1999.
Saturday’s win vaulted the Eagles into a third-place tie in the conference standings with the Laney College Eagles, also 10-8 in conference play. Laney’s season record going into this week was 18-19. Mendocino swept the 3-game series with Laney this season.
The two Eagles teams trail first-place College of Marin Mariners (14-4, 25-11) and second-place Los Medanos Mustangs (13-5, 21-16). Fifth-place Solano is 9-8 and 14-21.
Marin and Los Medanos play each other in a 3-game series this week. The outcome of that series will determine which of those two teams will be the conference champion. If either team sweeps the 3-game series, that team will be the champion.
If Marin sweeps or wins two of three games, Marin wins the championship. If Los Medanos wins two of the games, the two teams tie for the championship with 15-6 records. In which case, Los Medanos would get the No. 1 seed in for the conference for the playoffs, becoming the effective conference champion by virtue of have a 2-1 record in head-to-head competition with Marin.
The best playoff scenario for Mendocino is for Marin to sweep Los Medanos and for Mendocino to sweep Yuba. That would result in both Mendocino and Los Medanos finishing conference play tied for second place with identical 13-8 records. Mendocino would get the conference’s second automatic berth in the playoffs by virtue of having a better RPI ranking than Los Medanos.
Thus, the Eagles’ playoff fate is not entirely in their own hands. But at least they enter the final week of conference play still in the playoff mix. To stay in that mix, they probably have to win at least two out of three from Yuba, if not sweep the series.
Even then, their playoff fate will likely be in the hands of the CCCAA playoff selection committee.
The best plan of action for the Eagles is (barrowing the famous sports phrase often attributed to former Raiders head coach and owner Al Davis, “Just win baby.”
The Eagles did that on Saturday against Contra Costa. It wasn’t the prettiest game a team might play. But, ultimately, it produced the desired result in the form of another win for the Eagles.
If you are a baseball fan who prefers close, low-scoring games dominated by the pitchers and the defenses, well, this game wouldn’t rate high on your list of favorites.
But if you are a fan who prefers lots action on the bases with minimal innings without runs scored, well, this game would have been more to your taste.
In a game which the Eagles never trailed, they piled up 20 hits and scored 12 runs, scoring in seven of the eight innings in which they took at bats. They had a 5-0 lead after two innings of play and led 11-5 after six innings, before winning by the final 12-7 margin.
Four of Contra Cosa’s runs were unearned, the Eagles committing 4 errors in the game. The Comets committed 3 errors, the Eagles benefiting with two of their runs being unearned.
Every Eagle who batted in the game had at least one hit, 7 of the players with multiple hits. First baseman Jay Guerrero, right fielder Sam Penning and catcher Tyler Carrasco each had 3 hits apiece. Left fielder Carter Kimberly, shortstop Austin Jackson, third baseman Joe Brazil and second baseman Mat Silva had 2 hits each.
Center fielder Jacob Alveridez, DH Morgan Edwards and right fielder Malik Bond each had a hit, Bond singling in his one at bat.
Silva and Penning were the team RBI leaders with 3 RBIs. Silva’s came on a bases-loaded double. Jackson, Alveridez, Brazil had 2 RBIs each, Brazil’s coming on a 2-run homer in the bottom of the first.
Every Eagles player who batted, except Jackson, scored a run, with Kimberly, Alveridez, and Penning scoring 2 each.
Eagles starter and winning pitcher, Karter Koch, pitched 7 innings, allowing just 2 earned run, striking out 4 and walking none while yielding 9 hits.
Jason Hibbeln pitched a scoreless 8th inning allowing no hits and no walks. Keegan Beebe pitched the ninth inning, allowing 1 earned run on 2 hits, striking out 2, including the final batter of the game. Beebe also walked no batters.
The Eagles set the tone for the game early. Koch retired the Comets in order in the top of the first on two ground balls sandwiched around a popup to the catcher.
Kimberly, in his usual leadoff spot for the Eagles, did what he usually does and what good leadoff hitters do, force the pitcher to throw a lot of pitches, in this case 7 pitches (only 14 less than the Giants Brandon Belt had in an at bat on Sunday).
But in this case, Kimberly got the better result. While Belt’s at bat ended in a fly out to right field. Kimberly ran the count full before hitting a grounder to short.
The throw to first was wide to the outfield side of the base, beyond the dive of the first baseman, nearly hitting Eagles first base coach Mickey Coughlin. Kimberly advanced to second on the play.
Probably unnerved by the turn of events, the Comets’ pitcher neglected to check the runner, with Carter stealing third. He then scored the first run of the game on a Jackson single to right.
The Eagles made the Comets pay when Contra Costa failed to turn a potential inning-ending 6-4-3 double play, getting only a force on a grounder to short.
The next batter, Brazil, blasted a fly ball deep to straight away left. The left fielder went back to the fence, leaped high, but not high enough, with the ball carrying over the fence for a 2-run home run.
Guerrero followed with a single grounded up the middle, just past the reach of shortstop and then the second baseman. Guerrero was stranded when the next two outs were recorded on a fly ball and liner to center.
After one inning of play the Eagles had a 3-0 lead. Contra got a leadoff single to start the second inning, but that runner was stranded when the next three batters were retired on a strikeout and two ground balls.
The Eagles added on in their half of the second. With one out, Carrasco singled to right. Kimberly drew a walk. Jackson reached on an error by the shortstop to load the bases.
Alveridez lined a single to center to drive in two runs. Contra avoided more damage when a line shot off the bat of Brazil went right to the second baseman who doubled the runner off second.
But after two innings of play, the Eagles were up 5-0.
The Comets got themselves back into the game in the top of the third. With one out, an infield error put a runner on second. The Comets then strung together three consecutive hits and a fielder’s choice to score three runs to cut the Eagles’ lead to 5-3.
The Eagles got a run back in the bottom of the inning after two were out. Penning singled. Silva reached on an error. A Carrasco single to plate Penning.
Koch pitched around a leadoff single in the top of the fourth, helped by Carrasco throwing out the runner on a steal attempt after a fly ball out to right. The third out was recorded on a grounder to short.
The Eagles added another run to their lead in the bottom of the fourth. Alveridez drew a one out walk and advanced to second, tagging on a long fly ball to center by Brazil. Alveridez then scored on a two-out single by Guerrero. After four innings of play, the Eagles lead was 7-3.
Koch pitched a shutdown top of the fifth, stranding a lone runner after a two-out double.
The Eagles scored another run in the bottom of the inning, with Jackson getting a two-out single driving in Silva who had reached on a fielder’s choice. The Eagles left the bases loaded but now held an 8-3 lead after five innings of play.
To their credit, the Comets didn’t lay down. In the top of the sixth, they scored two runs before an out was recorded, getting a leadoff triple to right center, an infield error on a grounder and a double to left center.
A fly ball to right recorded the first out. On a ground ball to short, it looked like the runner trying to advance from third was out at third on a tag. But the umpire ruled safe, putting runners on the corners, still with only one out.
In danger of seeing their lead cut further, the Eagles got a big lift when Koch bore down and struck out the next two batters swinging to strand both runners, leaving the score at 8-5.
The Eagles answered with 3 runs in the bottom of the inning. Guerrero worked a leadoff walk, a rally’s best friend. Edwards and Penning singled to load the bases.
Next up, Silva worked the count to 3-1 before lining a double down the left field line, with all three runners scoring. Silva was sacrificed to third, but was stranded there. Nonetheless, the Eagles had upped their lead to 11-5.
Koch was back out on the mound to pitch the top of the seventh. He yielded leadoff single, but retired the next three batters to strand the runner.
In the bottom of the seventh, for their first and only inning of the game in which they batted, the Eagles failed to score in the bottom of the seventh.
Coming in to pitch the top of the eighth, Hibbeln retired the side in order. The Eagles added an insurance run in the bottom of the inning. Bond grounded a leadoff single up the middle, stole second and advanced to third on a wild pitch. He scored on another wild pitch to make the score 12-7.
The Eagles got two more hits in the inning by, one each by Silva and Kimberly, but didn’t score any more runs.
That was the score when Contra Costa came up for their final at bats in the top of the ninth, facing another reliever, right-hander Beebe. Not going quietly, the Comets managed to combine two hits, an error, a stolen base, a wild pitch and a ground out into two runs.
Another runner reached on an infield error after a strikeout for the second out. That runner was stranded when Beebe got his second strikeout of the inning, recording the final out of the game.
Eagles head coach Conor Bird summed up his team’s series-clinching win over Contra Costa saying, “We just scored a bunch of runs. We got a bunch of hits and a bunch of runs. We needed that. We didn’t play very good defense. We needed a lot of runs to win.”
Bird noted that in the series vs. Contra Costa Brazil went 6-for-12 with 4 runs scored, 3 RBIs and the home run and Guerrero went 6-for-13, with 4 runs scored and 2 RBIs.
Jaymin Graveman started and pitched seven innings, in the game played at Contra Costa on Thursday, holding the Comets to 3 runs and getting the win in that game. Jared Hibbeln pitched 4 innings in relief in the series, allowing just 1 run.
Bird confirmed that the Eagles’ goal in the upcoming series vs. Yuba College is to sweep the series and hope Marin does the same to Los Medanos.
“If we tie Los Medanos for second place, we would get the automatic playoff bid because we have a higher RPI.”
Even if that scenario doesn’t work, the Eagles could still be in the running for an at large bid to the playoffs, the team already having won 20 games with three to play.