SANTA ANA — The Orange Empire Conference race came to an ugly and embarrassing end Thursday. Rancho Santiago clinched the title with an 11-2 victory over Saddleback in a game that was stopped in the eighth inning because of a fight.
The incident occurred when Saddleback's Wade Jackson was hit on the helmet by pitcher Ryan Filbeck with two out and no one on. Jackson side-stepped the umpire and went after Filbeck. Players from both benches followed and several punches were thrown. It took a couple minutes for the coaches and umpires to get the players off the field.
As the umpires were meeting, Saddleback Coach Jack Hodges and assistant Bob Schellenberg went back on the field to continue the argument. At that point, the umpires stopped the game.
"It's a shame it had to end like that," Hodges said.
Part of Hodges' anger stemmed from a play that happened in the sixth. Rancho Santiago had runners on first and second when Derek Brown bunted. On the play at first, Brown ran into second baseman Neil Garcia as he stepped on the bag.
Brown was called safe, and Garcia, who was stunned for a moment, was on his back holding the ball as both runners scored.
In the second inning, Jason Wakefield had a two-run single as Rancho Santiago scored four runs. Ryan Andersen had a two-run single and the Dons (31-8, 16-7 in conference) added four more runs in the fourth for an 8-0 lead.
The title was the fourth in a row and the fifth in the last six years for Rancho Santiago and Coach Don Sneddon. They end the regular season Saturday at OCC in a noon game. OCC beat Fullerton, 10-4, Thursday.