Owls come up short in comeback attempt

Mountie first baseman Caesar Murillo attempts to bowl over Citrus catcher Keith Cooper in the top of the ninth inning. The Owls lost 6-4.

Mountie first baseman Caesar Murillo attempts to bowl over Citrus catcher Keith Cooper in the top of the ninth inning. The Owls lost 6-4.

Bottom of the ninth. Two outs. Bases loaded. Down two runs, it’s a chance to complete a comeback against your school’s biggest rival. Every ballplayer’s dream.

Three pitches later, it was over.

The Owls men’s baseball team (10-15, 4-10 WSC) was able to make it interesting in the end, but never fully recovered from giving up an early four runs┬áMarch 28 to the state #14-ranked Mt. San Antonio College Mounties (16-8, 6-3 SCC) before losing 6-4.

The Owls had opportunities to tie or take the lead late in the game when they loaded the bases in both the eighth and ninth innings. But in the eighth, catcher Keith Cooper popped out to leave the Owls empty-handed.

In the ninth, RBIs by right fielder Brandon Benson and designated hitter Mike Rowland off Mt. SAC reliever Brandon Murfett cut the Mountie lead to two before Mountie closer Jerry Flores came in and fanned three quick ones by freshman pinch hitter Nick Simons for the final out.

“[It was] confidence,” said Flores. “I knew I was going to get him. He [wasn’t] going to get a hit off me. I just threw him three fastballs and pretty much sat him down.”

For Citrus head coach Steve Gomez, the stymied comeback was simply a matter of too little, too late.

“It’s very similar to last year, where we were leaving players on base [a lot]” said head coach Steve Gomez. “We don’t always leave 12 players on base, but on average we’re leaving like 8 to 10 a game.” Citrus would end up outhitting Mt. SAC 12-8, but also left 12 runners stranded on base compared to Mt. SAC’s 3.

But for the first four innings. the Owls had problems just getting on base at all. The team struggled making solid contact on Mountie John Werner’s pitches, and was unable to muster a hit until freshman shortstop Rodnee Little’s single to left in the bottom of the third.

Meanwhile, the Owls did seem to flash back to their disappointing 2012 season in the second inning. The costly errors that dragged Citrus down to a 16-20 campaign last year resurfaced in the second, allowing the Mounties to tack on a tidy four runs.

Half of those runs were unearned, stemming from third baseman William Fishburne’s overthrow to first after diving on a Dwight Tardy grounder. To make matters worse, with two outs and runners on first and second, Fishburne didn’t realize that he could have simply tagged third base to end the inning.

When the Owls finally did manage to break through against Werner with two runs in the bottom of the fifth, they gave them right back to the Mounties in the top of sixth to push their lead to back to 6-2.

That momentum swing effectively sealed the deal for the rival Mounties–something that’s been noticeable in most of the Owls games this year. Prior to the game, sports information coordinator Andrew Wheeler noted that Citrus had lost 10 out of their last 14 games where the team gave up a run or more following a scoring inning.

Make that 11 out of 15.