The Saddleback baseball team opened Orange Empire Conference play with a 14-3 win over inter-district rival Irvine Valley College on Tuesday in Irvine. The Gauchos exploded for eight runs in the fourth inning in improving to 15-2 overall.
Saddleback had one of the best pre-conference starts in program history in 2018, but that all goes out the window once the conference schedule starts. The Orange Empire Conference is traditionally one of the better conferences in the state, winning 16 of the past 25 state titles. Furthermore, if the pre-conference schedule foreshadows anything about the 2018 campaign, things haven't changed much as the Orange Empire Conference was a Southern California-best 41 games over .500 heading into today's action.
Saddleback sent an early statement to the rest of the league on Tuesday as the bats kept rolling along after averaging over 11 runs-per-game in the previous 10 outings. The Gauchos slapped around Irvine Valley pitching, collecting 10 hits and eight walks while taking advantage of four Laser errors.
Irvine Valley took a 2-0 lead in the opening inning before Saddleback rallied the bats. The Gauchos scored once in the second inning, two more times in the third before the massive outbreak in the fourth inning when they sent 12 batters to the plate and scored eight times.
Spencer Heinsius opened the fourth inning with a solo shot over the left field fence for a 4-2 lead. That was the beginning of a nightmare inning for Irvine Valley, who failed to record an out until the seventh batter of the inning. Brett Auerbach was the next hitter. Auerbach walked and quickly stole second base, putting another runner in scoring position. Brett O'Toole then hit a shot to third base that was mishandled by Brett Long, leaving runners at the corners with no outs. Saddleback made the Lasers pay for the mistakes when Willie Lajoie doubled home Auerbach for a 5-2 lead. The next batter was Mike Jarvis, who singled home O'Toole and took second base on another ill-advised throw.
Irvine Valley then went to the bullpen, putting in Eric Brunst. He quickly plunked Connor Glenn with a pitch to load the bases. Brunst then finally recorded an out when he struck out Riley Kasper for the first out of the inning. The positives were short-lived, however, as he walked Chad Crosbie and then gave up a two-run single to Jo-Jo Quintanilla for a 9-2 lead.
The exasperated Lasers went back to the bullpen and replaced Brunst with Paul Colignon. He started with a wild pitch to move Quintanilla over to second base, further frustrating the Laser bench. After getting an out, Auerbach then stepped to the plate for the second time in the inning and delivered a two-run single for an 11-2 lead. Irvine Valley would eventually get out of the inning after eight runs on five hits, one error, two hit-batters and a walk.
The big lead would be plenty with Saddleback ace Tanner Brubaker on the mound. After a hiccup in the opening inning, Brubaker settled down and pitch seven strong innings in improving to 6-0 on the season. He turned the ball over to Alex Kent, who surrendered just one hit over the final two innings of work as the Gauchos had things on cruise control.
Saddleback scored three more times in the seventh inning to increase the lead to 14-3. The big blast was a two-run homer by Jarvis (pictured), who finished 2-for-4 with three RBI and three runs-scored.
Saddleback improved to 15-2 overall and 1-0 in Orange Empire Conference play with the win. The Gauchos and Lasers will play again on Thursday at Saddleback in game two of the three-game series. The first pitch on Thursday is scheduled for 2:00 PM.