Cuesta College’s baseball team won its sixth Western State Conference title in the past decade this season, but its Southern California Regional postseason got off to a rocky start Friday.
The eighth-seeded Cougars (21-16) were no-hit through six innings and lost 8-3 to Cypress (24-13) as the ninth-seeded Chargers exploded in the third inning for seven runs.
The best-of-three series in the 18-team regional continues today at 11 a.m. If the Cougars win, a third game will follow at 3 p.m. in a doubleheader.
Cypress’ Stephen Kane, who’s now 12-0 this season and entered with an earned run average of 2.04, shut down the Cougars until the seventh inning.
That’s when Cuesta tallied two runs on a bloop single to left by right fielder Mac Stuart and an RBI groundout to first by left fielder Spencer Ruggles.
Third baseman Andrew Montanari led off the seventh with a drag bunt to break up the no-hitter and later scored.
“I was just trying to get something going for us, and I saw that the first baseman was playing back,” Montanari said. “(Kane) had pretty good tempo today. We just have to keep battling.”
In the eighth inning, Cuesta tacked on another run when catcher Parker Hindle hit a sacrifice fly for an RBI.
For Cuesta’s No. 1 starter Andrew Nelson, things went pretty well outside of a disastrous third inning.
After a leadoff single and a bobbled chopper by first baseman Scott Shields, the Chargers strung together a monster rally, which included RBI doubles by Jonathan Torres, Blake Davey and Tyler Schultz.
When the bleeding stopped, Cypress came away with seven runs on seven hits, though only two of the runs were earned.
Cypress’ seven, eight and nine batters in the lineup went 5 for 11 with four RBI. Nelson hit three batters as well, giving him 23 hit batters on the year.
Nelson, the conference pitcher of the year who entered with a 10-4 record and a 3.10 ERA, allowed another unearned run in the fifth but otherwise held the Chargers scoreless, pitching all nine innings.
The right-hander, whose fastball averages between 87 and 92 miles per hour, has signed a letter of intent to play at Kentucky. Friday could have been his last game in a Cougars uniform because he’s not expected to pitch today.
“I just had some trouble locating a bit in the third inning,” Nelson said. “I got the ball up a bit. Once I got the ball down, things went much better and I got stronger about midway through the game.”
The No. 1 pitcher for Cuesta, who comes from Omaha, Neb., played catcher in high school. He now has four pitches — a fastball, curve, slider and change, and said that he’s glad he made the switch to the mound.
“I love pitching,” Nelson said. “When I got here, I tried out for everything, but I realized I had the most potential with pitching.”
Nelson said that the confidence the Cougars gained in playing a solid latter half of the opener will help them today.
Coach Bob Miller said that playing solid defense will be a key for the Cougars today, and he said that he’s glad his team won the second half of the game.
“We didn’t catch the ball behind Nelson today,” Miller said. “In that third inning, we didn’t get that out early in the inning, and it just magnified the pressure on him. We have to play better D, that’s for sure, and we have to scrap and battle and just get it done.”
Zack Domingues, Cuesta’s shortstop, walked twice, giving him 51 walks on the season to lead the state. Domingues went 1 for 2 at the plate and scored a run. His day helped him improve on his .545 on-base percentage, which leads the state as well.
Montanari said that he believes Cypress can be beaten.
“I think any team in juco baseball is beatable,” Montanari said. “I think we hang with the best of them pretty well. We just have to get it going.”