The Saddleback baseball team battled for 15 innings to beat Irvine Valley College, 10-9, on Tuesday at Doug Fritz Field. The game lasted four hours and 29 minutes before Joseph Canty delivered the game-winning hit.
Saddleback and Irvine Valley both entered the game desperate for a win, with the playoffs just around the corner and both teams needing some help in order to qualify. Saddleback entered the day at No. 15 in the (Southern California) RPI and one game in front of the Lasers in the Orange Empire Conference standings. The Lasers were No. 11 in the RPI despite being in seventh place.
The game turned into an instant classic, with both teams unloading their benches and wearing out their pitching staffs. The game had a combined 32 hits, six errors, 11 pitchers and 457 pitches. It ended when a guy with just 33 at-bats on the season delivered his sixth hit of the year, knocking in Ryan Thibert with the final run of the game.
Saddleback battled back from a 7-1 deficit by scoring one run in the sixth inning, two more in the seventh and three in the eighth to tie the game at 7-7. Irvine Valley looked like they were going to win the game in the top of the ninth inning when they broke loose for two runs for a 9-7 lead. The Gauchos answered with a two-run homer from Willie Lajoie to send the game to extra innings.
With Saddleback's pitching staff on fumes, they turned the ball over to Ethan Holt in the top of the 10th inning with the potential go-ahead run at first base. Holt proceeded to get David Rojas to hit into a double-play and then got an easy groundout as the game moved forward. Holt worked his way out of another jam in the 11th inning when Irvine Valley had a runner on third base and one out in the inning. He proceeded to strike out Ben McConnell before getting another ground out to end the threat.
Saddleback looked like it was going to win the game in the bottom half of the 13th inning when Filip Smola walked to lead off the inning and was moved over the second base with a sacrifice bunt. Thibert then delivered a single to center field, but Smola was thrown out trying to score on a nice relay from the shortstop.
Holt was finally taken out of the game in the top of the 14th inning when Hunter Ash entered as the seventh Gaucho pitcher of the day. Ash recorded a 1-2-3 inning, giving Saddleback another shot at a win in the bottom half of the inning. With one out in the bottom of the 14th, Chris Demgen reached base on the fifth defensive error from the Lasers and wound up at second base. The Gauchos again could not take advantage, stranding Demgen at third base on a couple of groundouts.
Ash entered for a second inning in the 15th and again was brilliant. He retired the Lasers in order for the second straight inning, giving Saddleback yet another chance at stealing the win. The Gauchos were facing Noah Bradford, a relief pitcher who entered the game in the ninth inning after pitching just 23+ innings all season. Saddleback started the inning with Thibert singling through the left side of the infield and then being moved over to second base by Demitri Colacchio on a sacrifice bunt. Irvine Valley then intentionally walked Riley Kasper in attempt to set up a potential double-play. It backfired, as Reed Beverly hit a high-chopper over the mound and the throw was late, loading the bases. Up stepped Canty, who was batting .156 in 32 plate appearances after grounding into a double-play to end the 13th inning. Canty ended up delivering his biggest hit as a Gaucho, finding a hole on the right side of the infield to empty the bench in celebration.
Saddleback improved to 19-18 overall and 7-12 in Orange Empire Conference play with the win while Irvine Valley dropped to 20-17-1 overall and 5-14 in OEC play with the loss. The two squads have two more games remaining in the three-game set, with Irvine Valley hosting on Thursday and Saddleback hosting on Friday. Both games are scheduled to start at 2:00 PM.