The Orange Coast College Pirates clinched the Orange Empire Conference Championship Friday, defeating second place Cypress College.
On Tuesday, the bats came alive with 18 runs scored between the two teams, ultimately ending with the Pirates hanging on for the 10-8 win. OCE batting leader Cary Arbolida had three hits, including a home run, and knocked in four RBIs. OCC capitalized on five Cypress errors, and were able to escape a three-run ninth inning by Cypress, thanks to sophomore relief pitcher Cameron Mahafy, who was credited with the save.
The second game of the series was just as much of a nail-biter, but with Cypress getting the best of the Pirates, 4-3. Sophomore starting pitcher and designated hitter Chazz Martinez threw 111 pitches over eight innings of work, striking out 11, but gave up a walk-off single in the ninth to Cypress infielder Ryan Maciel.
After splitting the first two games, OCC capped off the series with a commanding 9-1 victory over the Chargers. Centerfielder Jared Schatz had two hits, driving in one run and scoring three, while second baseman Tyler Weaver scored two runs and drove in three on just as many hits, including one home run.
Sophomore starting pitcher Kelly Austin, who is second in the OEC in strikeouts and leads the conference in wins, pitched six innings and added to his total with eight more strikeouts, allowing only one run in the winning effort.
For first-year head coach Nate Johnson, this conference championship had an especially deep significance.
“This is what some guys came back for, to win for Alto,” Johnson said. “To be able to do that in my first year is pretty cool.”
After eight years as an assistant coach for the Pirates under coach John Altobelli, Johnson was hired as the full-time head coach of the ball club last summer. In that span of nearly a decade, Altobelli was a profound mentor who had a tremendous impact on Johnson in his early coaching career, according to Johnson.
“I hope he’s smiling down,” Johnson said, as he fought back tears. “It’s emotional. We don’t get to go to Fresno to compete for a championship, so this is all we got, and it means a whole lot.”
The 13-2 Pirates will play three more conference games against Santa Ana to close out the season. The final game of the year will be at home starting at 3 p.m. on Friday.