SANTA BARBARA - After a rocky first three innings, SBCC settled down on Thursday at Pershing Park and rallied for a 6-5 walk-off baseball win on Tommy Holguin's bases-loaded single in the bottom of the ninth.
The Vaqueros improved to 14-11 overall and 7-7 in the WSC North. They're in third place in conference, two games behind co-leaders Cuesta and Ventura, with six to play. Hancock (14-16, 6-8) is tied for fourth with Moorpark.
The game was a battle of ex-Dos Pueblos pitchers as reliever Jake McBride made his first start for the Vaqueros and Dylan Kelley, a star on the Chargers' CIF semifinalist team last year, started for the Bulldogs.
Left-hander Jack Aldrich came on in the third inning and allowed the first four runners to score (two unearned) on three hits, two errors, a walk and a hit batter. He settled down to finish the game, giving up four runs on six hits over seven innings with 10 strikeouts and two walks.
"In the first few innings, a team is still trying to get its feet in the water," said Aldrich, a freshman from Oaks Christian High. "I knew that once we got our feet in the water, we'd be cruising in the later innings. I was happy our guys were able to make adjustments and get it done in the last inning."
The Vaqueros fell behind 5-0 in the third and finally got on the board in the fifth when Nicholas Trifiletti walked, went to second on a wild pitch and scored on Logan Pollack's single to right center. Nicholas Prainito doubled in the seventh and Trifiletti unloaded his second homer of the year – a two-run shot over the left-field fence that cut the deficit to 5-3.
The Vaqueros sent seven players to the dish in the bottom of the ninth and scored three times for the walk-off win. Jacob Bravo reached on an infield single and Prainito hit an RBI double that bounced past a diving left fielder. Trifiletti was hit by a pitch from Hancock closer Ismael Hernandez and after a strikeout, Pollack singled to right on an 0-2 pitch to score Prainito and make it 5-4.
Joshua Perlmutter was intentionally walked, loading the bases and bringing the infield in. Holguin drilled the second pitch to the gap in right center, scoring Trifiletti and touching off a huge celebration as the players mobbed Holguin between first and second base.
"I knew they would come at me with a fastball, so I just got ready and went for it," said Holguin, a former Santa Barbara High standout. "Jersey [Trifiletti] got us going with that home run in the seventh. I knew they'd come at me with a fastball and I just tried to do my best."
Two days earlier, Hernandez had struck Holguin out on a 10-pitch at-bat to open the 10th inning of a game the Vaqueros ended up winning, 10-8.
Pollack, Prainito and Pat Caulfield all went 2-4 with Pollack driving in two runs. Caulfield has a four-game hit streak and he's batted .500 in that span (9-18) to raise his average to a team-leading .351.
SBCC employed the "opener" pitching approach for the second straight game, throwing McBride in the first two innings and then bringing in their No. 3 starter, Aldrich. McBride gave up one run in the first inning on two walks, a hit batter and three wild pitches.
Hancock took a 5-0 lead in the third as Aldrich surrendered four runs on two singles, a double and a pair of errors that made two runs unearned. Aldrich pitched shutout ball for the last six innings, giving up two doubles and a single.
"I was a long relief pitcher in high school, so I don't mind it," said Aldrich. "It was a team choice to use the 'opener' approach today. I was thrilled to have McBride throw those first two innings and have great damage control in the first and throw up a zero in the second. I'm really proud of him for doing that. It's tough to battle from adversity and we did that numerous times today."
Hancock only had six baserunners in the last six innings and none of them reached third base. Catcher Benjamin Martz threw out two runners – Reed Odland who doubled in the fourth and tried to steal third and Jake Shusterich, who was thrown out at second in the fifth.
"We decided to mix things up," said SBCC's eighth-year coach Jeff Walker. "We've struggled later in games with our bullpen, so we decided to try the bullpen in the first few innings the last two games and then come in with our starters. It worked out well today, we didn't allow a run after the third.
"We saw Hernandez on Tuesday and he pitched against us in all four games, so it wasn't anything unfamiliar. We're in 'Survive and Advance' mode right now and it's like this every year. How I still have my hair and I'm not shaking is beyond me."
The Vaqueros are trying to make the Southern Cal Regional for the ninth straight year. They're two games back of Cuesta and Ventura with six to play.
Santa Barbara will play a two-game set with Cuesta on Saturday in San Luis Obispo at 1 p.m. and Tuesday at Pershing Park with the first pitch at 2:30 p.m.
(Dave Loveton, Santa Barbara City College Athletics)