By the time the ninth inning rolled around Tuesday, College of the Canyons coach Chris Cota began to wonder if the big hit was ever coming.
The Cougars had seven base knocks by then, but only one came with a runner in scoring position. COC had made a crucial error to boot. It couldn’t execute a bunt all day, and East Los Angeles was ready to execute COC’s hopes.
Then Cole Kleszcz stepped to the plate.
“I had all the confidence in the world with him,” Cota said.
Kleszcz, who hit two home runs in the same inning last week, sent a pitch over the left center-field fence, plating three runs and delivering a 5-3 walk-off win for the Cougars, their fourth win in a row after an 0-3 start.
“It was a curve ball, I think, because it broke away and he hung it a little bit and it felt good,” said Kleszcz, whose two homers Thursday lifted COC to a 12-7 comeback win over Cosumnes River.
Tuesday’s dinger lit up an otherwise sleepy afternoon.
Cougars righty Justin Dehn mowed down East L.A. (6-3) from the start, but he departed after four-hitless innings due to back stiffness. The Cougars (4-3) then pieced together five innings from three relievers.
Cota feels a difference between COC’s slow start and its winning streak has been that relievers have kept COC in games.
That was the case Tuesday.
Jarrett Poh threw 3 1/3 innings of one-run ball, and Sean Ward picked up the win with 1 1/3 innings of work. He did allow a run in the top of the ninth, though, which dropped the Cougars behind 3-2.
That didn’t bode well for a COC team that had already left eight men on base.
“We didn’t execute all day. We didn’t get bunts down. We had runners in scoring position,” Cota said, “and we didn’t make them play defense. I was worried that it wasn’t going to happen today.”
But James Scanlan doubled to left center to lead off the bottom of the ninth, and Ivan Lomeli reached first on a bunt when pitcher Richard Escobedo elected to try to get Scanlan at third. Scanlan was safe.
East L.A. was not. Kleszcz ended the game with one swift swing.
“We’ve needed a big hit all year,” said COC catcher Anthony Lepre, whose RBI single gave COC a temporary 2-1 lead in the seventh. “It’s been the same thing every game, just waiting for it to click eventually.”
Tuesday might have been the start.