Written by: Joe Langstaff
On Thursday at Sonoma State University, the Mendocino College Eagles baseball team did what no other Bay Valley Conference team has been able to do this season, beat the College of Marin Mariners.
The Eagles, who never trailed in the game, beat Marin 5-4 to stop the Mariners’ winning streak at 13-games. The Eagles almost ended Marin’s steak on Tuesday in Ukiah, suffering an excruciating 4-3 loss in extra innings in that game.
With Thursday’s win, the Eagles improved their conference record to 7-4 and overall record to 17-12. The Mariner’s conference record now stands at 10-1 and overall record at 21-8.
Despite the streak-ending loss, Marin still holds a 3-game lead in the conference standings, with four BVC teams, including the Eagles, tightly clustered in the next four spots in the standings, with 10 conference games left to play, plus some make up games.
Los Medanos is in second place with a 7-2 conference record, followed by Solano at 8-3, Mendocino at 7-4 and Laney 5-4. Of that group, the Eagles were the only team ranked in the most recent CCCBCA Northern California Top 20 Poll. The Eagles were ranked 16th. Marin was ranked 7th.
Going into Tuesday’s game, both Marin and Mendocino were coming off an excellent month of baseball in March. Marin had gone 12-0 in the month, the Eagles 10-2, winning 6 of their last 7 games and, ending the month with a 3game sweep of Laney College.
Tuesday’s game was the first meeting of the season for the Eagles and Mariners. It featured a pitchers’ duel between starters left-hander Chris Allen for Marin and right-hander Zac Whitely for the Mendocino.
Each pitched a scoreless first two innings. Marin broke through for a run in the second on a two-out single. They added a second run in the top of the fourth on a leadoff home run by left fielder Adam Hussain, his second hit of the game.
The Eagles answered with a run in the bottom of the inning, with shortstop Karter Koch driving in third baseman Joe Brazil who had reached on a two-out error.
Whitley pitched a scoreless fifth and sixth, retiring the side in order in both innings. Allen, who appears to induce a lot of ground balls, also pitched a scoreless fifth and sixth, aided by double play turned in each inning, the second and third the Eagles had hit into at that point of the game.
Right-hander Jared Hibbeln pitched a scoreless seventh for the Eagles. Allen gave up a leadoff single in the bottom of the inning, but yet another Mariners’ twin-killing helped Allen pitch another scoreless inning.
Hibbeln gave up a couple of one-out hits in the top of 8th, one by Hussein for his 3rd hit of the game. But the inning ended on double played turned by the Eagles on a liner to second, with Hussein being doubled off.
Against Allen, in his eighth inning of work, left fielder Carter Kimberly got a one-out single through the left side. Second baseman Austin Jackson drew a 4-pitch walk. Marin changed pitchers, bringing right-hander Nick Roth.
The Eagles caught a break when a ball grounded up the middle, looking like a potential inning-ending double play, was, instead, misplayed by the shortstop, with Kimberly coming around to score the tying run, making the score 22.
Marin limited the damage, retiring the next two batters on a strikeout and a grounder, stranding both runners. But going to the ninth, the game was tied.
Right-hander Turner Gustafson pitched a scoreless top of the ninth, giving up a one-out walk, being helped out by a nice catch by center fielder Jacob Alveridez later in the inning.
The Eagles threatened to win the game in the bottom of the ninth, with Brazil reaching second on an error by the shortstop. DH Morgan Edwards was intentionally walked. The next batter, Koch, was hit by a pitch to load the bases, still with no outs.
But in this game, Lady Luck was not on the Eagles side. The next batter, on a 2-0 pitch, hit a sharp grounder, but right at the third baseman who fielded the ball and threw home for the force. The catcher quickly pivoted and threw to first to retire the batter for the second out, Marin turning its 5th double play of the game. The side was then retired on a fly ball, the game heading to extra innings.
Marin opened the top of the 10th by drawing a leadoff walk. Two batters later, Hussein got his fourth hit of the game and his second home run, driving a ball over the left field fence, giving Marin a 4-2 lead. The next two batters were retired, but the damage had been done.
The Eagles didn’t go down without a fight in the bottom of the inning. Jackson led off and was hit in the back by a pitch. Alveridez followed with a single to left.
Malik Bond pinch hit for the Eagles, nicely laying down a sacrifice bunt to move the runners to second and third, representing the tying runs.
The next batter, first baseman Jay Guerrero, hit a sharp grounder up the middle, knocked down by the pitcher, who picked it up and threw Guerrero out at first, with the runner scoring from third and the Alveridez moving up to third. Next up, Brazil drew a walk to put runners at first and third.
The game ended when the next batter hit a grounder to short, the shortstop flipping to second for the game-ending force, with Marin holding on for the 4-3 win.
The next day the Eagles had to host a makeup game against Los Medanos. The teams had split their first two games back in March, the Eagles winning the first game on March 23 in Pittsburg. 2-0, with starter Jaymin Graveman and Gustafson combining for the shutout. On March 25 in Ukiah, Los Medanos beat the Eagles 4-1.
In Game No. 3 on Wednesday, Los Medanos scored two runs in the first inning and would never trail the rest of the game.
The Eagles cut the deficit to a run on a Brazil two-out single in the fourth. But Los Medanos scored 2 runs in the sixth, a run in the eighth and two more in the ninth. The Eagles could add only one more run to their total on a Guerrero sac fly in the 8th, the Mustangs winning the game 7-2.
Thus, having dropped two games in two days, the Eagles had to play their third game in three days on Thursday, the second game of the series with Marin.
Because Marin’s field is currently being renovated, the Mariners are playing their “home games” at Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park. With the rain forecasted to begin in mid-afternoon, the Eagles and Mariners agreed to move the game up to 12:30 from its original 2:30 start time.
Light showers were falling during pregame warmups. Fortunately, there were only intermittent “sprinkles” during the game.
Right-hander Koch got the start for the Eagles, with right-hander Jason Wutsch going for Marin. Kimberly led off the game with a single over third. Alveridez drew a one-out walk. But both runners were stranded.
In the bottom of the first, Marin got a one-out single and then a two-out single, but the lead runner was thrown out at third by a strong throw by Kimberly in left.
The Eagles took advantage of two errors by the Marin shortstop in the top of the second. Right fielder Graveman reached on an error. He was sacrificed to second by second baseman Mat Silva, where he scored on a throw past first by the shortstop after fielding a ground ball.
With two outs, Kimberly was hit by a pitch, putting runners at the corners. Next up, Jackson, playing shortstop with Koch pitching, went to a full count before grounding single through the right side to drive in Koch. A force at second retired the side, but the Eagles had a 2-0 lead.
They held the lead until the third when Marin staged a two-out rally with no one on. A walk was followed by double to put runners at second and third from where they scored on another double by the next batter, first baseman MacLean Meyn. A single put runners at the corners. But the next batter struck out to retire the side.
The Eagles went down in order in the fourth. Marin got a leadoff walk in the bottom of the inning. That runner was ultimately thrown out at the plate for the third out on a strong throw from Graveman in right.
The Eagles went back ahead in the top of the fifth. Kimberly led off and lined a double to left center. He was later thrown out at third on a grounder to short for the second out, leaving a runner at first.
Guerrero singled to put runners on first and second. Brazil followed with a double lined into the gap in left center, with both runners scoring. A groundout retired the side, but the Eagles now led 4-2.
The lead was short-lived. In the bottom of the inning, Marin again staged a two-out rally, starting with Meyn hitting a solo homer over the right field fence.
Hussain continuing to feast on Eagles pitching, singled and stole second from where he scored on a single by the next batter, tying the game 4-4.
he Eagles made a pitching change, with Hibbeln taking the mound and Koch becoming the DH. Hibbeln got the elusive third out on a popup to Silva.
In the sixth, the Eagles got a one-out walk by Koch and a two-out single by Kimberly, but both were stranded. Hibbeln set the side down in order in the bottom of the inning.
The Eagles retook the lead in the top of the seventh, with Alveridez getting a leadoff single and Guerrero singling to left to put two on and no outs. Brazil sacrificed the runners up a base.
Alveridez then scored on a Bond grounder to short. A line out ended the inning, but the Eagles now led 5-4.
For the second inning in a row, Hibbeln retired the side in order in the bottom of the inning.
The Eagles went down in order in the top of the eighth against Marin reliever Michael Benz.
Gustafson took over the pitching duties for the Eagles in the bottom of the eighth. Marin got two walks, but stranded both runners. Gustafson got the final out on a called third strike.
Jackson got a leadoff walk in the top of the ninth, but was eventually erased on an inning-ending double play.
In the bottom of the ninth, Marin had an inning probably equally as frustrating for them as was the Eagles’ ninth inning of the game on Tuesday.
The leadoff batter was hit by a pitch. The next batter walked. With their third place hitter Alex Davis due up next, Marin eschewed the sacrifice bunt to move the runners into scoring position, representing the potential tying and winning runs.
Instead, Davis was allowed to swing away. On a 3-1 count, Davies hit a sizzling one hopper directly to Brazil at third. Brazil fielded it cleanly, took a couple quick steps to his right to step on the bag for a force, then threw quickly to first to Guerrero to double up the batter.
The runner on second had held with the ball being hit to third and was still there after the completion of the double play. The next batter walked on four pitches, putting runners on first and second with two outs.
With the tying and winning runs on base, the next batter took a pitch in the dirt, blocked by the Eagles catcher Tyler Carrasco.
The next pitch was grounded to the right side where it was fielded by Silva cleanly and thrown to first for the final out the game, the Eagles winning 5-4.
This time it was the Eagles celebrating in the center of the diamond with postgame handshakes after getting a win on the road to even the series at a game apiece.
With the current rain storm was expected to last through Saturday, the final game of the series scheduled for Saturday in Ukiah was rescheduled to Sunday at 1 p.m.
Eagles head coach Connor Bird agreed that the dramatic endings of the two Marin games were very similar. “It was almost like a mirror image, except that they had their best hitter at the plate. I kind of thought they were going to bunt, to be honest. Their three hole guy is another of their Division I players. He leads the league in hitting. He grounds into a double play. We got lucky, I guess.”
That said, it was pointed out that each team won the game in which it never trailed. That being the case, one could argue that each team won the game it most deserved to win. Bird concurred with that line of reasoning.
Commenting on the first game with Marin, Bird pointed out “We never had the lead. Their shortstop was trying to give us the game (making errors). Their pitching was good. They should have scored more runs. I feel that if we had won that game, we would have stolen that game from them. Sometimes you have to get lucky.”
With regard to the team’s chances for possibly making the playoffs, Bird points out the top two teams in a conference get automatic berths in the playoffs.
Marin at 10-1 has a sizeable, but not insurmountable, lead over the rest of the potential contenders in the conference. Currently, five teams in the conference, including the Eagle, are definitely still in contention for the conference’s two playoff berths.
The best plan of action Bird feels is for his team “to keep winning games. If we want to be a playoff team we have to continue to win. I know this team is capable of being a playoff team.”