For the second time in as many days, the Cuesta College baseball team had a big hole to climb out of.
The Cougars even accomplished something Thursday that they did not the day before — take the lead — thanks in part to a couple of outfielders who are enjoying breakout seasons.
But in the end, Cuesta (12-12) was handed its second consecutive 8-7 loss, this time by Los Angeles Harbor (10-11) in the finale of the Allan Hancock Spring Classic Tournament.
Trailing by a run with two outs in the top of the ninth, Harbor’s Frankie Sixtos hit a single to left that bounced in front of charging Cougars outfielder Matt Anderson, allowing the tying and go-ahead runs to score. Scott Livergood pitched two scoreless innings to end the game and earn the win.
Cuesta has a final nonconference game at Orange Coast College on Tuesday before resuming play in the Western State North Conference (where the Cougars sit in fourth at 4-5) at Santa Barbara on Thursday.
Sixtos’ hit was an in-between hop that Anderson just couldn’t press for hard enough to catch on the fly. He let it bounce a half step in front and hurried in the relay.
“It had a lot of top spin on the ball as far as me charging it,” Anderson. “It was hit pretty well, and it was diving, but I was just trying to get it in as fast as I could.”
Though he wasn’t able to reach that crucial liner, Anderson flashed his speed on a bases-loaded triple to left center that drove in three er runs to give Cuesta a 7-5 lead going into the seventh inning.
That was after Harbor jumped out to a four-run lead in the second and went up 5-1 in the top of the fifth.
Cougars head coach Bob Miller expected his team to mount more offense against Harbor lefty Ryan Young, who was 0-3 with a 7.33 ERA in five starts this season.
Instead, Young gave up only three hits and one run through the first five innings.
In the sixth, Miller was ready to try anything to spark a rally. He even gave one of his pitchers his first collegiate at-bat.
Jon Moscot, who pitched a complete-game 2-1 win over Cypress on Tuesday, had the pinch-hit, two-out single that allowed for Anderson’s big triple.
“I was just looking for something a bit different, hoping that somebody would go up and give us some aggressiveness,” Miller said. “At that time, we weren’t being real aggressive with the bat.
“We’ve done that with a position player going out to pitch, someone that hasn’t worked out a lot. It’s just something that’s a fresh little attack, and that’s what that was.”
With one on and Cuesta trailing 5-2 after an RBI fielder’s choice by Anthony Fadelli, Moscot pulled a bloop single to left to put runners on first and second, and Mitch Prophet walked without taking a swing to chase Young.
Austin Cunningham and Zach Steele followed with RBI walks where neither player offered at a pitch. Anderson remained selective, too, and only after getting down by two strikes did he take a swipe.
That was the triple.
“Once we got into the bullpen, we wanted to make them throw strikes,” Anderson said. “They weren’t doing it, and a few guys got on.
“I had two strikes on me, so I was just trying to put the ball in play.”
It was the latest clutch hit for Anderson, who also homered in the 8-7 loss to Merced on Wednesday and leads the Cougars in runs.
Just like Steele, who hit his team-leading fourth home run to give Cuesta a run in the bottom of the third Thursday, Anderson has emerged as a team leader.
Steele wasn’t projected to start coming into the season since the Cougars were returning Danny Poma in centerfield. But when Poma left the lineup with an injury, Steele took over.
A 2006 graduate of Santa Ynez High, Steele is in his fourth season with Cuesta after taking both a traditional and a medical redshirt and now leads the team with a .411 average. In 18 games, Steele has 16 runs and 15 RBI.
Since Poma’s return, all three outfielders are available to play at once as they did for the final three innings Thursday.
Anderson, a Righetti High graduate, had fewer than 20 at-bats last season but has upped his batting average to .324 as an everyday starter this year. In 20 games, he has 23 hits, 18 runs and 14 RBI.
“He’s really turned himself into a player,” Miller said. “It wasn’t like he showed up here with a lot of accolades. It’s good to see him having that success. It’s going to lead to a four-year opportunity for him.”