Cypress College, the former laughingstock of the South Coast Conference, had the last laugh on struggling Golden West Thursday.
After Golden West had scored twice in the bottom of the eighth inning to tie the score at 4, Cypress got two runs in the top of the ninth and went on to win, 6-4, at Huntington Beach.
The victory moved the Chargers (12-9 in conference and 22-11 overall) into a second-place tie with Santa Ana. Both are seven games behind Cerritos, which has already clinched the SCC championship.
Golden West (12-9, 21-10), which lost its fourth straight, dropped into fourth place.
Cypress used a familiar combination--pitching and power--in winning its second game in three tries against Golden West this season.
Jim Bennett (8-2) pitched a complete game to get the victory, and Cypress hit three home runs in support of the freshman left-hander. James Jackle, who has 12 homers this season, hit two and Mark Baca hit one.
Baca's home run, his ninth, came in the ninth with a man on against Rustler ace reliever Gary Buckels (3-2) and provided the decisive runs.
So with four games left in the regular season, Cypress has a chance to have its best conference finish in years. The Chargers were last one year ago, and were picked to finish eighth in the nine-team conference in 1985.
But the Chargers have exceeded everyone's expectations, including those of first-year coach Scott Pickler.
"Nobody expected us to be where we are," he said. "But we have just battled all season long and kept battling and turned it around faster than anyone thought we would."
Meanwhile, Fred Hoover, Golden West's coach, is faced with the possibility of seeing his team finish below third place for the first time in 15 years.
"It's hard to identify with what's happening," he said. "We were loose at practice yesterday and were all set to have fun, and then during the game we got tight.
"The big problem today was that our pitchers came in with some awfully fat pitches."
The score was tied, 1-1, going into the bottom of the fifth inning when Shawn Gilbert hit a bases-empty home run, his third, to give the Rustlers' a 2-1 lead.
Then Cypress, which loaded the bases with none out in the third and came away empty, got two in the sixth to take a 3-2 lead.
Jackle led off the inning with a towering home run to left-center. Bert Lizarraga followed with a double and moved to third on Chris Kocman's fly ball to deep center. The go-ahead run scored when John Martin, the second of three Golden West relief pitchers to work in the inning, walked Jeff Nicks with the bases loaded.
Cypress made it 4-2 in the seventh when Jackle hit another towering home run to left.
But Golden West fought back to tie the score in the eighth. Keith Kaub led off the inning with a bases-empty home run to left, his seventh, and the tying run came in on an error by Cypress third baseman Kocman.
That set things up for Baca, who followed Nicks' leadoff single in the ninth with his game-winning drive over the left-field fence.
Jackle had three hits to lead Cypress and Todd Nash and Casey Martin had three for Golden West.
In other South Coast Conference action:
Santa Ana 6, Orange Coast 3--Doug Maher's three-run home run with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning capped a five-run rally and broke a 3-3 tie as the Dons (12-8, 26-11) beat the Pirates (11-10, 16-16) at Santa Ana.
Mike Lindsten and Pat Longo each had RBI singles in the eighth to set the stage for Maher's game-winning homer to right field. Gary Pifer went the distance and struck out three to improve his record to 8-2. Santa Ana is 12-8 in conference and 26-11 overall.
Fullerton 8, Saddleback 5--The Gauchos (8-13, 15-17) made six errors and lost to the Hornets at Mission Viejo. Mike Frei went 4 for 5 for Saddleback.