One big inning was all the Cuesta College baseball team needed Friday afternoon.
The Cougars scored six times in the third inning and received another sharp performance from sophomore Louis Raymond on the way to an 8-3 win against Chaffey in the second round of the California Community College Athletics Association playoffs.
With the victory, Cuesta (28-12) is one win from advancing to the regional finals for the first time since 2010. The second game in the best-of-three series is scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday back at Cuesta Field.
“I expect our energy level to be really high,” head coach Bob Miller said. “This time of the year, you’re playing for some special opportunities.”
The Western State Conference champion Cougars jumped on the visiting Panthers (29-10) early and often. Designated hitter Tanner Bos and left fielder Nick Rutckyj each drove in a run in the first, and Cuesta blew the game open two innings later.
Chaffey starting pitcher Isaiah Haro, who entered Friday’s contest with an 8-1 record and a team-best 2.89 ERA, couldn’t find his rhythm against a potent Cougars lineup. Haro also was hindered by two uncharacteristic throwing errors from third baseman Kevin Riley, the Foothill Conference Player of the Year and one of the better players in the CCCAA.
Cuesta was able to take advantage of those miscues and sent 10 batters to the plate during the decisive third inning. The bottom of the Cougars’ batting order did most of the damage, with Arroyo Grande graduate Robbie Silva and former Atascadero standout Nate Javine contributing back-to-back RBI singles.
That brought up No. 9 hitter Jacob George, who delivered a bases-clearing triple to put Cuesta ahead 8-0.
“The kid was struggling, so he was trying to get it over the plate,” George said. “He got it over the plate, and I got extended on the first pitch and was able to hit it over the second baseman’s head.”
Haro was pulled after 2 1/3 innings, and his replacement, Jacob Battaglia, kept the Cougars in check the rest of the way. He struck out six of seven batters during one particularly impressive stretch spanning the fifth through seventh innings.
Yet, there wasn’t much Chaffey could do offensively against a red-hot Raymond.
The Western State Conference Pitcher of the Year seemed to get stronger as the game went on. Raymond (10-2) scattered seven hits over eight innings and struck out seven against no walks to earn his sixth consecutive victory.
“He did a great job of getting ahead of their batters,” Miller said. “I don’t know what the numbers were, but it seemed like there was a lot of times he got two-strike counts on a lot of guys. He did a nice job.”
Riley was the only Panther able to keep pace with the Raymond. He entered Friday’s matchup with a .415 batting average and 53 runs driven in — both ranked No. 4 in the state — and went 3 for 4 with three singles and an RBI.
Right fielder Nick Burnham was the only Cuesta player to record multiple hits, finishing 2 for 3 with two doubles, a walk and a run.
“We know when guys are right we can get production from top to bottom,” Miller said.
Sophomore right-hander Neil Uskali, a first-team all-conference performer along with Raymond and Brendan Jenkins, will start Saturday’s game for Cuesta. Uskali is 7-2 on the year with 76 strikeouts against five walks.
“That’s a very good team over there,” Miller said. “We’ve got to not take any pitches off and come and compete from start to finish.”