BASEBALL: No. 4 Comets shutout No. 1 ranked Santa Ana
Coming off a loss in the Super Regional’s last year, the Comets were looking to start this season on a positive note; the only problem was that they were facing the No. 1 ranked team on the West Coast.
However, the Comets, (1-0) didn’t let the impressive ranking intimidate them, and they beat the Santa Ana Dons (0-1), ranked first in Southern California, the state and the West Coast, 7-0 on Friday afternoon at Myers Field on the campus of Palomar College.
In the bottom of the first, Comets Left Fielder Casey Munoz hit a double, scoring designated hitter Nico Garbella. Garbella got on base with a single, and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by shortstop Reggie Jones.
The first inning was a good barometer of the Comets offensive play as they remained aggressive at the plate, and laid down another four bunts.
“Our goals are to put pressure on the defense, and we did a good job of that,” manager Buck Taylor said.
Starting pitcher Julian Esquibel breezed through the first three innings giving up only two hits and striking out one. But in the fourth he got into what would be his only jam of the day.
With runners on second and third with no outs, he induced two ground balls and a fly out to preserve the 1-0 lead.
“He messed up a couple of times that inning, and then made two really good pitches to get two outs and located a 2-seam fastball inside,” Taylor said.
It was still early in the game and that half inning could have changed the Comets’ fortunes, but Esguibel managed to shutout the Dons.
“First two guys got on, and once they got to second and third I knew I had to bear down and throw strikes and get outs without letting them score,” Esquibel said.
Esquibel pitched six innings, gave up no runs, allowed only four hits and struck out two.
“He did a really good job; he started out in the (bull)pen frustrated,” catcher Audie Afner said. “He came out and executed and got outs with other pitches anyways.”
For his first time pitching this year, Esquibel felt good, “I had good control of all three of my pitches—for the most part. I was able to hit my spots and keep them from hitting anything hard,” Esquibel said.
In the bottom of the fourth, third baseman Tommy Cheek drove in Afenir to increase their lead to 2-0. In the fifth they scored their third run after Jones executed a suicide squeeze scoring Chris Johnson.
Taylor described the play as a “double squeeze” since there was also a runner on first. He said he figured out the right scenario when it successfully works and will keep it handy for the future.
“Maybe that (play) wins us a State Championship,” Taylor said.
In the sixth inning the Comets broke open their lead and scored four times. Afenir singled, Cheek had a bunt single, Josh Sabourin was safe on an error and Danny Hawksley doubled to bring in two runners.
Then arose a little controversy, Comets center fielder Austin Muehring hit a deep fly ball down the right field line that rolled to the wall in foul territory. The Dons’ right fielder raised his hands signaling the ball was out of play, when in reality the ball was still in play.
While the outfielder remained signaling a foul ball, Muehring rounded the bases and headed home, scoring the two base runners ahead of him. After the outfielder signaled that the ball was out of play, the second-base umpire called timeout, unaware that the ball remained in play.
Since the umpire called timeout when Muehring was on second, the umpires forced him return to second, despite the fact that the hit was an inside-the-park home run.
After the game, Taylor confirmed that the umpires admitted the call was incorrect. The umpires told him the runner had to go back to second because time out was called, but Muehring, in fact, should have been allowed to score.
Afenir went 2-for-4 with two runs scored, Hawksley went 1-for-3 with two RBI and Muehring also had two RBIs.
In the end, Taylor was happy with the win.
“Overall, it was a hell of a team win, and a great job of executing by each guy out there.”