With one swing Tuesday, Cole Kleszcz turned old news into a developing story.
It had been Foothill League boys soccer on Thursday that kept me from College of the Canyons’ 12-7 comeback win over Cosumnes River, a victory in which Kleszcz hit two home runs in the seventh inning.
Foothill League basketball games Friday meant I couldn’t follow up on the story then, either. So by the time I finally made it to Cougar Field on Tuesday, Kleszcz’s heroics were four days old.
There was no need to worry.
Right on cue, Kleszcz came to the plate in the bottom of the ninth with men on first and third and no outs.
COC trailed East Los Angeles 3-2 in what had, to that point, been a lackluster performance of a handful of hits, few of them meaningful. The Cougars’ nascent three-game winning streak was in danger.
There was no need to worry.
Kleszcz sent the second pitch he saw over the left-center field fence for a walk-off home run, adding to a stellar start for a player who sat out all of 2016.
Kleszcz, a center fielder, graduated from Valencia High in 2015 after a strong senior campaign (.380 batting average, five home runs, 26 RBIs). He competed for playing time at COC during the fall, but the Cougars — who went on to lead the state in hitting — were loaded with bats.
The decision for Kleszcz to redshirt came on the eve of the Cougars’ first regular-season game.
The following months consisted of going to practice, suiting up for games and watching from the dugout.
“It was really tough (just to watch) especially with the success we had,” said Kleszcz of the Cougars going 28-10.
There was no need to worry. Kleszcz’s time was coming.
In the meantime, he continued to get his reps at the plate during practice.
College baseball: @v1k1ngsbaseball grad Cole Kleszcz hits walk off 3-run homer for @COCAthletics. Final. COC 5, East LA 3.
— Signal Sports (@SignalSports) February 15, 2017
“He’s a team leader,” said COC coach Chris Cota. “He’s a redshirt freshman who was with us all year and got better all year and took advantage of that year to get better, and it’s paying off for him.”
Said Canyons catcher Anthony Lepre, “He definitely got better, that’s for sure. He didn’t just take the time off.”
Lepre was one of three Valencia grads to lead COC in batting last year.
Lepre hit .401 with 13 home runs and 47 RBIs.
Chad Bible hit .385 with 15 home runs and 61 RBIs.
Colton Burns hit a team-best .406 with four homers and 30 RBIs.
Bible and Burns have moved on to NCAA Division 1 schools, but Kleszcz has just as quickly taken their place.
He was eager to do so.
“I was waiting for it,” Kleszcz said of playing this year. “I was ready to go. After sitting out a whole year of baseball, I mean, it’s kind of tough, but you fight through it.”
Kleszcz is 12 for his first 30 at the plate with four home runs and 11 RBIs through seven games.
College baseball: @v1k1ngsbaseball grad Cole Kleszcz had a monster game for @COCAthletics today: https://t.co/YthMKdJHla
— Signal Sports (@SignalSports) February 10, 2017
In Thursday’s epic comeback, he led off an eight-run seventh with a solo shot and came back later with a three-run dinger.
It was the first time in his baseball career he’d hit two home runs in an inning.
It would not be the last time he came through in the clutch.
Cota said he worried late in Tuesday’s game that the big hit wasn’t coming.
But he said he had full confidence when Kleszcz stepped to the plate.
Of course he did. There was no need to worry.