While Cañada baseball faltered in its regional playoff series at Chabot this past weekend, Saturday’s Game 2 was the punctuation on a remarkable season for sophomore pitcher Sam Alton.
The right-hander pitched the Colts to their only win in the best-of-three playoff series, taking a no-decision through seven innings as Cañada scored the go-ahead run in the bottom of the eighth to win 3-2.
It was the only game to go Cañada’s way in the series. The Colts dropped Game 1 Friday 2-0, before getting dismantled 20-4 Saturday in the decisive doubleheader nightcap Game 3. But Alton’s turnaround since a horrific freshman season at City College of San Francisco in 2012 was an affirmation of what it is to be a community college athlete.
Inside three years, Alton went from posting a 1-10 record as a freshman to posting an inverse 10-1 record as a redshirt sophomore this season. For his efforts, Alton was named the Coast Pacific Conference Pitcher of the Year, posting one the great seasons in Cañada baseball history, according to Colts manager Tony Lucca.
“He definitely, in my opinion, had one of the best seasons in the history of the school out of anybody,” Lucca said. “There’s been some pretty quality pitchers and some pretty quality ballplayers that have come out of here. But the season Sam had for us ranks up there with the best of them. … It wasn’t just a good year. It really was a dominating year for him. And when you talk about guys going down in history, that’s what you talk about — guys who dominate.”
Lucca’s playoff series epitomized the overall frustrations Cañada experienced in being defeated by the Northern California No. 1 seed Gladiators. The Colts’ skipper was ejected in Game 1 for arguing a botched call at second base in the fifth inning. As per California Community College baseball rules, Lucca was required to serve a one-game suspension. As a result, he did not manage the final win of Cañada’s season as Alton dealt in Game 2. He did, however, resume the helm for Game 3 in the second game of Saturday’s twin bill.
“I got a nice little ovation from our fans and from our team when I walked into the dugout, which was nice,” Lucca said.
But things swiftly and definitively took a turn for the worst, as Chabot jumped on Canada starting pitcher Joe Marcucci for seven runs in the first inning. With the Colts playing their fourth game in five days — Alton started both games Cañada won — the team’s pitching depth was as thin as it had been for any game all season.
“It was one of those cases where [Marcucci] looked really, really good in the bullpen and it just didn’t translate into the game,” Lucca said. “In the game of baseball, you have days like that. Unfortunately it was the wrong day to have one of those type of days.”
It wasn’t that Marcucci came entirely undone. The freshman right-hander surrendered eight runs over two innings, though only five of the runs were earned. It was a nightmare of a series for the defense though, as the Colts infield made seven errors in the series, six of which were committed by shortstop Kyle Zirbes.
In Game 1, Zirbes made three errors in the second inning which led to both of Chabot’s runs on the day. Both runs were unearned. In Game 3, Zirbes committed three more errors, with one in each of a pair of seven-run innings for Chabot.
“Zirbes had a tough series all the way around,” Lucca said. “I mean, he got a couple hits, but I think he made some mistakes and made some decisions that obviously were not the best. He’s a good player. He played hard, it’s just … it wasn’t his series.”
And Cañada’s overall postseason frustrations continue as well, as the team has yet to advance past the first round of the playoffs during Lucca’s tenure.
“We just can’t get out of this first round for whatever reason,” Lucca said. “I don’t know what it is.”
It was still a successful regular season for the Colts though, as the team finished with a 26-14 overall record and finished in second place with a 17-7 record in Coast Pacific Conference play. And the team rallied late in the season, winning their final six games to land the final No. 16 seed in the Nor Cal playoffs.
“I’m proud of this group,” Lucca said. “They went out there, they played hard. … We made it to the postseason. It was a very successful season. We had a Pitcher of the Year. There’s a lot of good things to look back and really appreciate.”
It was Alton’s performance down the stretch that highlighted the successful season. The sophomore put the team on his shoulders during an extra-inning game April 3, in which the Colts won 1-0 after battling Cabrillo for 13 innings. Alton worked 11 innings and while Cabrillo pitcher Nat Hamby went 10 innings in a pitching duel for the ages.
Alton has yet to commit to a transfer. Lucca said Alton being able to pitch at the four-year college level is in the bag. And his upside could even see him pitch beyond that.
“He’s definitely got a couple more years left of college ball,” Lucca said. “He’s definitely going to play. And if he continues to get stronger, and … if he can light up the gun a little bit more with his fastball, I think he definitely has a chance to play after college baseball because of his ability to locate pitches in any count, his whole demeanor and everything. Wherever he lands these next two years, somebody is going to be very happy with him, I’m sure.”