Kevin Saenz hit a walk-off, three-run home run to give the Panthers a 5-2 victory over visiting Diablo Valley College Saturday afternoon in 10 innings.
The City catcher crushed a two-strike pitch deep over the temporary classroom buildings beyond the left field fence at Union Stadium, sending his teammates into a frenzy as they mobbed him at home plate.
“I’ve got the jitters right now,” said Saenz after the game. “I was just excited that it found the barrel. I knew it had the distance. I hit it, and I knew it was gone.”
Saenz, who has been sharing time behind the plate with Brett Bello, has admittedly struggled of late. But the freshman from Tracy went 3-for-5 at the plate, saving his biggest hit for when it mattered most.
“I haven’t been swinging the bat well at all,” said Saenz. “It’s about getting to the next pitch. I can’t control the last pitch, but I can control that moment. I stuck with my plan, and I did it. It felt good.”
City took a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the 8th inning, but the Vikings tied the game in the top of the ninth. The Panthers squandered a scoring opportunity in the bottom of the ninth with a runner on third and nobody out, sending the game into extras.
Creed Smith and Joe McNamara each singled to lead off the 10th inning to set the stage for Saenz.
“It was hammered,” said City head coach Derek Sullivan of Saenz’s game-winner. “That was pretty cool. Those moments are really fun because they don’t happen very often. It just makes you smile.”
The Panthers began the season winning 12 of its first 14 games. Once Big 8 Conference play started Feb. 27, they had since only won two of their past six games entering Saturday. In the losses during that stretch, the team hit just over .200 while averaging less than two runs per game.
Saturday’s win seemed like one that the Panthers needed to gain steam heading into the meat of the Big 8 schedule. But Sullivan said there was something more to Saturday’s game that can truly unite the team down the stretch.
“I don’t know that the win was the most important thing,” said Sullivan. “What was important was that for the last three innings, the whole bench was involved in the game, and the energy was different. That’s what we needed more than anything.”
City starter Matt Ornelas went six innings, scattering six hits and giving up only one unearned run and one walk with a pair of strikeouts. Danny Chavez pitched two scoreless relief innings in his return from injury, and Adam Erickson picked up his third win of the season at the back end of the bullpen.
City won the third game of the conference-opening series with San Joaquin Delta in a 10-inning 8-6 victory. The team was then swept in two games March 6 and 8 against Ohlone College before beating DVC March 13 with a 4-2 final.
Despite the recent offensive struggles, the City pitching staff remains strong. The team boasts a 2.50 earned run average, which is second best in the state.
City goes for the series sweep at DVC March 19. City’s next three opponents are Cosumnes River, Modesto and American River, all teams that began the weekend below City in the Big 8 standings.
Sullivan wants to see more of what he saw from his team as a unit in order to be truly successful for the remainder of the season.
“That’s our challenge for the rest of the year,” he said. “It’s just playing the right type of baseball. When we play a certain way, it’s going to be really hard to beat us. For the last couple years, we’ve found it at different times. Hopefully, this group has found it and wants to keep it.”
For more info on SCC baseball, visit www.sccpanthers.losrios.edu/sports/bsb/.