College of the Canyons Cougars baseball was looking for revenge in its season opener series.
COC hosted the Saddleback College Bobcats to open up the 2024 season, the same team that ended Canyons’ 2023 season in the postseason.
The Cougars took one back from the Bobcats on Saturday, at Saddleback, after dropping the season opener, 7-5, at COC.
The Cougars pitched well but couldn’t slow down Saddelback third baseman JC Allen, who hit three homers off three Canyons pitchers on Friday.
COC had an answer for nearly every Saddleback sign of life but Allen’s two-run shot in the top of the ninth was too much, too late to overcome.
Canyons also hit a pair of dingers, both of which tied the game.
Valencia alumnus Evan Jaquez opened up his collegiate career with a bang, firing out the first pitch he saw to left.
Jaquez finished the day 2-for-2 and was one of three Cougars to have multiple hits.
COC freshman Jayden Steinhurst had a monster four-hit day, including a two-run shot that tied the game 5-5 in the bottom of the seventh.
“It was an even game and I think that if there’s another inning, we might get another run,” said Cougars coach Chris Cota. “It was an evenly matched game today, and that’s a pretty good team right there. They were in the final four last year for a reason.”
Cota knew his team was ready to come out swinging in the opener.
“They were excited after the bad taste from losing to (Saddleback) in the Super Regional finals last year,” Cota said. “With the mix of guys returning on the field, and we’ve got a couple guys back from other schools. I think when it’s all said and done, we’re going to compete just fine.”
Cougars freshman Joseph Jasso started on the mound and played well in his collegiate debut. Jasso struck out four, and gave up three runs in his 4.1 innings of work.
Valencia alumnus Harish Balachondron delivered two consecutive outs on the mound in relief for Jasso. The Vikings were well-represented as Tyler Biggs took the mound after Balachondron.
Biggs fanned three, while allowing just one hit and two runs over his three innings of work.
“I’m expecting our pitchers to get better and they’ve been good this fall,” Cota said. “Same thing on offense. I think today we put too many balls in the air for outs. I don’t think we did a very good job of making them play defense … As the season goes on, these guys will get better.”
Canyons registered three base hits in the final inning but wasn’t able to bring in any runs.
COC trailed 6-3 going into the seventh inning on Saturday before the bats caught fire.
Steinhurst brought in the first of six runs in two innings to pull ahead with an RBI single.
West Ranch alumnus Jake Schwartz then smacked a 2-RBI single to tie the game before Jaquez brought in Schwartz to take the lead.
COC pulled more ahead in the eighth due to some errant pitching and passed balls, and evened the series with a 9-6 win.
Canyons reliever JP Caire was dynamic and held Saddleback in check for the final three innings of play. Caire earned the save after allowing just one hit over three innings with two strikeouts.
COC is aiming for another deep postseason run where the Cougars could likely run into Saddleback again. Canyons has some big shoes to fill with Western State Conference Player of the Year Andy Ambriz transferring after his two-year career with the Cougars.
Cota is still confident that his new group can jump right in and get the job done.
“I think that we’re going to be fine,” Cota said. “I think we’ve plugged in some good players in those spots. It happens every year — good players leave but we get good players in.”
Canyons returns home on Thursday to host the Ventura College Pirates at 2 p.m.