The Merced College defense had flirted with danger for a good portion of Saturday morning.
With the season on the line after falling to Cabrillo in the opening game of the best-of-three NorCal Regional series on Monday, the Blue Devils struggled to make the routine plays and came up empty on the exceptional ones.
The MC pitching staff managed to limit the damage for the first five innings, but the Seahawks took full advantage of a two-error sixth. Cabrillo broke the game open with a five-run rally and never looked back, ending the Blue Devils’ season with a 9-5 victory at Blue Devil Field.
“We said coming into the series, if we pitch and play defense, we’re going to be fine,” Merced College coach Chris Pedretti said. “You can’t give anybody, much less good teams, that many extra outs and expect to win.
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“There have been a number of times over the years where we’ve been swept out of the playoffs and we knew we were just over matched. I don’t feel that was the case this time. We just didn’t play very good baseball the last two days and Cabrillo did.”
The MC offense did a good job putting pressure on Cabrillo, getting runners on base in eight of the nine innings and putting the Blue Devils in front three times in the first six innings.
It was holding those leads that proved difficult.
Victor Tiscareno and Chuey Duran gave the Merced (26-16) and early lead with back-to-back two-out, run-scoring singles in the top of the second.
The Seahawks (29-13) evened things right back up in the bottom half of the inning, using three straight singles and an RBI ground out to tie the game 2-2.
MC went right back on top on a Trevor Chaney RBI single in the third. Tiscareno doubled the lead in the fourth, sprinting home from third when Cabrillo threw a ball to second to try and cut down a Lawrence Anderson stolen base attempt.
That lead proved short lived as well, as Cabrillo evened things again in the bottom of the fourth.
Nicholas Gonzales surrendered a pair of two-out hits to put runners at the corners. Zach Tibault then chopped a ball in between third and short. Duran charged the ball and threw slightly wide, pulling first baseman Ryan Frakes off of the bag. Frakes stretched with all he had, and appeared to get his toe back on the bag before Tibualt touched first. While MC waited for the umpire to signal one way or another, the runner came in from third. Tibault was eventually ruled safe, extending the inning.
Another error loaded the bases and Clayton Andrews (2 for 3) was beaned to force in the tying run.
“I felt like our pitchers did a good job today,” MC catcher Coleton Horner said. “We just didn’t help them out a lot with our defense. It’s tough getting to the playoffs and knowing you haven’t given it your best effort. We’re a much better team than we’ve shown the last couple days.”
Derek Molina put Merced back in front with a two-out single in the sixth. Despite the Blue Devils’ constant offensive pressure, the big inning eluded them and MC left nine on base in the game.
The missed opportunities came back to bite the Blue Devils in the sixth.
A hit batter and single put runners on the corners for the Seahawks with one down. An error allowed the tying run to come home and Digger Gugale put Cabrillo in front for the first time with an RBI single. Adam Rossit delivered the big blow two batters later with a two-out, two-run single. The Seahawks sent 10 batters to the plate in the inning, breaking the game open with five runs.
Andrews came on to shut the door, tossing three shutout innings to earn the save and complete the two-game sweep for Cabrillo.