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Pierce stymies ex-mates

Saddleback left-hander, who redshirted at OCC last season, gets first complete game to help Gauchos top Pirates.

April 05, 2014|By Barry Faulkner

It has been said that hitting is about timing and pitching is about upsetting timing. Saddleback College pitcher Eric Pierce knows a little about both.

Timing led him from Orange Coast, where he redshirted last season, to Saddleback, where an injury early in the season opened a spot for him in the starting rotation.

Ever since, the freshman has been using a lethargic left-handed changeup to confound opposing hitters, who regularly lunge and flail at his off-speed offerings like a blind-folded party guest feeling for the pinata.

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Pierce kept his former teammates off-balance for nine innings Saturday to help the visiting Gauchos earn a 7-3 Orange Empire Conference baseball win that widened their lead atop the conference standings.

Saddleback (19-9, 11-5 in the OEC), ranked No. 8 in Southern California, is now two games ahead of No. 5-ranked OCC (21-9, 9-7), which fell into a four-way tie for second with Cypress, Santa Ana and Riverside.

Pierce, who said he had never in his life thrown nine innings, allowed five hits, walked none and struck out six. He induced seven popups and eight groundouts to keep the Pirates at bay and improve to 3-0. It was his fifth start of the season and he has now crafted a 2.01 earned-run average in 34 2/3 innings as a starter.

Back-to-back hit batters in the fourth inning and a solo home run by OCC sophomore first baseman Chris Iriart in the seventh helped OCC score its runs, lifting Pierce's season ERA from 2.45 to 2.56. But in the other seven innings, only two Pirates reached second base and none got as far as third.

"He did a good job and we tip our cap to him," OCC Coach John Altobelli said of Pierce. "He threw strikes and kept his changeup down for the most part, other than the home run by Iriart."

The changeup, combined with a fastball that by contrast appears to get on hitters even more quickly, proved to be problematic for the Pirates, who have struggled against off-speed artists this season.

"We couldn't make any adjustments to [Pierce]," said Altobelli, who was more than familiar with Pierce's repertoire, since he practiced with the Pirates all last season. "We knew who they were going to throw, we worked on it in practice and we did a lot of things to battle it. And we still got only five hits. It's frustrating."

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