Pierce College freshman outfielder Josh Smaler attributes it to anticipation. Coach Bob Lofrano says it has to do with heart and determination.
Whatever the explanation, the Pierce baseball team again worked its ninth-inning magic Saturday, this time recording a 7-6 victory over host Mt. San Antonio in the championship game of the Mounties' tournament.
Smaler sparked a wild celebration by his teammates with a one-out, bases-loaded single in the bottom of the ninth that broke a 6-6 tie. The hit not only helped Smaler win the tournament's most valuable player award, it prevented the Mounties (7-3) from winning their own tournament for the first time in seven years.
For the third time in as many games Pierce (8-0-1) had pulled out a win in the ninth inning.
"I think it's anticipation," Smaler said of Pierce's last-inning heroics. "Everybody on this team wants to be up in the key situation. Everyone wants to make the play."
Smaler, who also delivered the game-winning hit in the ninth inning against Santa Monica on Thursday, drove in Jason Cohen with a sharp ground single to left off Joe Serna (1-2). Serna set the stage for Smaler's hit when he beaned Ricky Banuelos in the helmet with an 0-and-2 curveball to load the bases.
The win went to freshman reliever Jason Mansfield (2-0), who escaped a two-on, one-out jam in the top of the ninth when Pierce catcher Adam Pearlman picked off a runner at first during a botched double-steal attempt. That started a double play and rescued Mansfield, who limited Mt. San Antonio to two hits through the final 2 2/3 innings.
Pierce led, 6-4, entering the seventh but Scott Tomko tied the score with a two-run homer off Brahma starter Jason Parker.
Cohen and Robby Welles each had two hits and Banuelos added a run-scoring double for Pierce.
"I think this week showed us what we can do," said Lofrano, whose team won four games in the tournament. "They really stepped forward today."
In Saturday's first game, Mt. San Antonio beat Valley, 13-8, to advance to the final.
Arnold Settles had two doubles and three runs batted in and Mike Murray went two for two and scored four runs for Valley (5-6).