Standing down the third-base line Sunday afternoon, Cuesta College baseball coach Bob Miller spoke to an emotional Cougars team with conviction.
Foothill Conference champion Chaffey rallied from an early three-run deficit to defeat Cuesta 7-6 in a best-of-three series finale, eliminating the Cougars during the second round of the California Community College Athletics Association playoffs.
Miller made a point to remind his team of its outright Western State Conference title, and the first-round victory over Palomar one week earlier. While the 28-win campaign can be considered the program’s most successful season since 2009, it was hard to find solace in those words immediately after Sunday’s loss.
“They out-executed us on the weekend but I was extremely proud of the competing and the effort that we got,” said Miller, a five-time Western State Conference Coach of the Year.
“Someone had to win and someone had to lose, and unfortunately we’re on the short end of that.”
Cuesta finished the season 28-14 overall and came within a few close plays of qualifying for next week’s regional finals. A scrappy Panthers team did just enough to ensure their place as one of the final eight teams remaining in the 88-team CCCAA. They will play Golden West in a best-of-three series next week with a chance to reach the four-team state finals.
Early on in Sunday’s series finale, it looked like the Cougars were well on their way to a rout.
Cuesta scored three times in the first inning — thanks in part to RBI singles from Tanner Bos and Nick Rutckyj — to give starting pitcher Brendan Jenkins some breathing room.
The sophomore right-hander, who will continue his career at the University of San Francisco next year, held Chaffey (31-10) scoreless through the first four innings. Jenkins left two runners stranded in the second, third and fourth, but the Panthers started to find their rhythm the third time through the order.
They went on to score twice in the fifth, sixth and seventh and tallied 17 hits in the come-from-behind victory.
“High-scoring games have not been our deal this year,” Miller said.
The Cougars put together one last rally, scoring twice in the seventh to make the score 6-6. Two innings later, shortstop Cody Palmer drove in the winning run with an RBI single and Cuesta wasn’t able to answer in the bottom of the ninth.
Defensive miscues continued to plague the Cougars, who committed four errors in the finale. It was the eighth time this season they’ve committed at least four errors in a single game.
Sophomores Garrett Giovanelli, Nick Burnham, Bos and Rutckyj, and freshmen Robbie Silva and Jacob George each tallied two hits to lead Cuesta offensively. Miller said he would have liked to see the Cougars knocked Chaffey’s starting pitcher out of the game earlier, largely because the Panthers had few proven relievers available in the bullpen.
Chaffey’s Jonathan Longtin earned his first pitching victory after throwing the final 2 2/3 innings. He had pitched only one inning all season before closing out arguably the Panthers biggest game of year with relative ease.
“When your season is over and the emotions that hit you that your season is over, it hurts,” Miller said. “With all the time and the effort and the ambition and the goals and the aspirations that you have, it’s a pain that hurts from that investment and time.”