The Orange Coast College baseball team hit the field Tuesday for the first time since the shocking death of their coach John Altobelli, as they took on Southwestern College in a game that was eventually halted due to darkness with Coast trailing 7-6 in the top of the ninth.
The team’s opening day began with a memorial for the team’s fallen head coach who died alongside his wife Keri and daughter Alyssa in the helicopter crash that also took the life of Kobe Bryant and five others Sunday morning.
Thousands of supporters gathered to hear words from Southwestern’s head coach Jay Martel, the Pirates’ associate head coach Nate Johnson, Athletic Director Jason Kehler and John Altobelli’s brother Tony Altobelli before the game.
“Today is Alto’s favorite day — opening day,” Johnson said. “On opening day he was always here super early, but today I beat him to the field, and it’s going to be the only time that I ever do.”
Tony Altobelli also had some words for the team.
“Play like my brother would have told you to play. Play like coach Martel does tell you to play,” Tony Altobelli said as he addressed supporters and the Southwestern team. “I hope this year you battle, and you compete, and you do the absolute best you can.”
On arrival at the stadium, now nicknamed The House That Alto Built, supporters were welcomed with orange and white shirts inscribed with the #FOREVERAPIRATE on the front, and coach Alto’s number 14 on the back.
The game began with sophomore pitcher Michael Ryhlick taking the mound wearing Jourdan Watanabe’s number 22 for the first time since he died in the 2009 season. Watanabe was a baseball player who died during his season at OCC.
Ryhlick struck out the first batter he faced, with the ball from his first pitch retrieved and passed off to the Coast dugout.
In the bottom half of the inning Coast found its first hit of the new season, as sophomore outfielder Ryan O’Halloran came through with a single, though nothing would come from it.
Southwestern struck first, and struck hard in the third inning bringing in four runs on five hits, and one error.
Coast got one back in the bottom of the third, following sophomore infielder Justin Brodt’s leadoff triple who was eventually brought into score by freshman Jordan Ku’s sacrifice fly to left field.
Ryhlick left the game at the beginning of the fourth inning after striking out four batters, and giving up five hits and four runs which all came in the third inning. He was replaced by sophomore Alex Shadid.
The fourth and fifth innings went by quietly, but in the sixth Southwestern stretched its lead to 7-1, as batters scored three runs on two hits, and on error as well as a balk that caused a run to come across.
During the break between half-innings the entirety of the Pirates dugout huddled together on the field as they were most likely told to calm down and just play their style of baseball.
When they came back out the Pirates retaliated, scoring four runs of their own in the bottom of the sixth and came away with four hits, three walks and three runs. Freshman catcher Oscar Favela’s hard hit single scored two of the three runs as Coast cut into the lead, bringing the score back to 7-5.
Coast brought another runner across in the seventh inning when Favela swung on a 0-2 strike that should have ended the inning but instead the ball was dropped allowing O’Halloran who had just advanced to second via a stolen base to run the remaining 180 feet home scoring the sixth run.
With the score at 7-6 Southwestern, the game was at its most tense point when the 9th inning began.
However, following a single and double that set Southwestern up with runners on second and third with no out, the game was suddenly halted following a meeting between both coaches and the umpiring crew.
With no lights around the field they made the decision to postpone the final inning until the two teams' next matchup on Feb. 18 at Southwestern.
The team will set its sights on Wednesday’s away game at 2 p.m. against Long Beach City College.