Willie Navarrette threw a five-hitter as Rancho Santiago College defeated Cypress, 6-3, Thursday in an Orange Empire Conference game and won its first conference baseball title since 1967.
Rancho Santiago (34-6 overall, 16-3 in conference), the top-ranked team in Southern California, leads second-place Cypress (31-9, 14-5) by two games with one remaining. Rancho Santiago, which has tied the school single-season record for victories, defeated Cypress four times in conference games this season. Navarrette improved to 8-0.
With the conference title, the Dons automatically advance to the second round of the Southern California Regional playoffs, which start May 20.
"It really hasn't sunk in yet," Don Sneddon, Rancho Santiago coach, said about winning his first conference title in his seven seasons at the school.
"Anytime you can beat a club four times, then you know who is the best club right now," he said. "They are both equal teams in a lot of ways, and I hope we don't have to play them again unless it's for the state title. Then that means I've done a pretty good job as a coach."
Cypress led, 3-1, going into the bottom of the fourth before Rancho Santiago used five hits, two walks, a hit batter and a sacrifice fly to score five runs.
Todd Lloyd opened with a single, Mike Gonzales was hit by a pitch and Joe Townsend singled to load the bases. Danny Ontiveros and Ed Luna followed with RBI singles to tie it at 3-3. Kraig Washington then hit a sacrifice fly to put Rancho Santiago ahead, 4-3.
Nick Santa Cruz singled to load the bases and Bobby Hamelin walked to force in another run. Rich Gonzales struck out, but Lloyd walked to force in the final run of the inning.
Hamelin, who leads the state with 26 home runs and 93 RBIs, walked 4 times and struck out Thursday. He has 53 walks this season.
Benny Gonzales (10-2) settled down after the fourth inning but took the complete-game loss for Cypress.
The Chargers scored three runs in the top of the fourth.
Ken Briggs walked, and with two out, Jason Friedman lined the ball off the right-field fence to score Briggs. Lloyd, the Rancho Santiago right fielder, kicked the ball into center field, and Friedman was able to score, too. Doug Yates then hit a wind-blown triple off the center-field fence and scored on a single by Kevin Clancy to give Cypress a 3-1 lead.
In another Orange Empire Conference game:
Saddleback 6, Citrus 5--Pinch-hitter Nick Nikolenko hit a game-winning solo home run in the eighth inning to lead Saddleback (18-23, 6-12) at Citrus. Slade Ponsen earned a save after relieving Ben Ortiz in the sixth and allowing only one run through three innings.
In the South Coast Conference:
Golden West 12, Long Beach 11--Visiting Golden West (25-13, 13-7) had four home runs. Terry Reichert was 3 for 5 with a 2-run homer, a double and 3 RBIs. John Martin and Craig Paquette had three-runs home runs and James Buccheri added a solo homer for Golden West. Long Beach outhit the Rustlers, 14-11.
Fullerton 11, Pasadena 9--Rod Klopfer was 2 for 4 with 2 home runs and 3 RBIs for visiting Fullerton (29-11-1, 12-8). Deryk Hudson was 2 for 3 with a double and a homer and Emmitt Kohick was 2 for 4 with 3 runs scored. David Wackerman (3-2) struck out seven, picking up the win in relief.