The opposing constituencies watched in respective horror and delight, an entire grandstand holding its collective breath.
Atascadero High’s Tony Orozco was tracking a high fly ball by Pioneer Valley —but appeared more like a lost toddler wandering around at the mall.
“I’m not gonna lie,” said Greyhounds pitcher Louis Coppo, who earned his second save of the season in Atascadero’s 4-3 win Wednesday. “It scared me.”
Seventh inning. One-run lead. The game was on the line and reeking with PAC 7 title implications.
Seemingly, the outcome was all in the two-inches-too-short infield glove of Orozco, a last inning defensive replacement playing out of position.
Much to the relief of Coppo, Orozco made that catch and another with two outs and a man on third to seal the Greyhounds’ PAC 7 win.
“It was carrying pretty good,” Orozco said of the first out, “but once it got close enough, I knew what I was doing.”
Atascadero coach Rex West knew there was a reason he put the junior in the game with so much on the line. “Tony’s our starting third baseman for next year,” West said. “He’s a natural enough athlete that I put him out there.”
The catches helped Atascadero (14-5, 8-3 PAC 7) tie Righetti (13-6, 8-3) for first place in the league after the Warriors lost 4-3 to San Luis Obispo. Pioneer Valley is tied with both the Greyhounds and Righetti in the win column but trails by two in losses.
Orozco’s catches also ensured Coppo’s heroic effort of the prior inning didn’t go to waste.
Coming on in relief of reliever Nick Coons, who earned the win giving up one run in 32/3 innings pitched, Coppo got out of a bases loaded jam by striking out Panthers center fielder Kevin Rucker, who could be playing professionally this summer.
Pioneer Valley coach Mike Glenn said Rucker has been approached by three professional teams interested in signing him. Rucker came into the game batting .382 with four triples and 19 RBI.
But after battling to a full count with Coppo with the bases loaded in the sixth, Rucker struck out looking on a curveball down the middle.
“Three-two,” Glenn said. “Fastball, fastball, fastball, and then he throws a 3-2 curveball and freezes him. You’ve gotta give (Coppo) some credit.”
Coppo relished in the opportunity to face Rucker in a big spot. That competitiveness could be part of the reason he sees himself as an effective closer.
“That’s what I like doing,” he said, “just because I can just come in and throw hard for a couple innings.”
That’s exactly what Greyhounds starter Matt Poulin did.
Poulin pitched the first two innings for Atascadero and gave up two runs on two hits. His wildness, including three walks and one hit batter, had West thinking something was wrong.
So he took out the junior and went to Coons. West’s wariness about Poulin is partly what led to him placing Orozco in right, Poulin’s normal position.
But Poulin contributed a lot more with his bat than he did on the mound.
He slammed a three-run home run in the first inning against Pioneer Valley starter Justin Lodes. They were the last three runs of the game for the Greyhounds. West just shrugged.
“You hit a home run,” he said, “you’re not supposed to pitch, I guess.”
San Luis Obispo 4, Righetti 3
Daniel Howell drove in the winning run for San Luis Obispo (12-10, 8-6 PAC 7) in the top of the seventh inning as the Tigers upset Righetti.
Howell fought off a twostrike breaking ball and drove it to left field for a single, allowing David Schultz to cross the plate.
Matt McElearney was 1 for 2 with two RBI to lead the Tigers. Schultz was 2 for 4 with one run scored.
Brett Weeks went the distance for San Luis Obispo, allowing three earned runs on 10 hits and three walks while striking out two.
Paso Robles 11, Arroyo Grande 9
Brett Wise went 4 for 5 with three doubles, three RBI and three runs scored to lead Paso Robles (9-11, 5-6) to a PAC 7 win over Arroyo Grande (7-12, 5-6). The Bearcats scored six runs in the top of the fifth.
Andrew Culp and Junior Reynolds were each 3 for 4 for Paso Robles. Reynolds also scored twice and had an RBI.
For Arroyo Grande, Nathan Raubinger went 3 for 4 with two doubles and a home run —a solo blast in the bottom of the seventh. Freshman Clark Goossen went 2 for 3 with two doubles.
Tribune staff contributed to this report.