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MAY 4, 2007 — Playing its biggest game of the season, things were not going well for the Canada baseball team.
Starting pitcher Eric Fregosi lasted only two innings before leaving with pain in his shoulder, right fielder Shane Parsons re-aggravated an ankle injury while on the basepaths and other than a two-run double from Ryan Peterson in the bottom of the third inning, the Colts failed miserably with runners in scoring position.
Trailing Mission College 3-2 in the bottom of eighth, in a game the Colts needed to win to solidify their playoff chances, Canada finally came alive. The Colts scored five runs -- four coming on two-run bolts from Tyler Kaher and Wade Reynoso -- to claim a 7-3 win over the Saints.
"Our team is good. We've just been inconsistent all year long," said Canada manager Tony Lucca. "One good thing is, we've been tough as hell in innings seven, eight and nine. That's one thing our team has handled well this year.
"These guys (Mission) always seems to give us a good, tough, competitive ball game."
Canada (14-11 Coast Conference, 25-18 overall) needed those late-inning heroics Thursday and they came off the bat of Kaher, who has played most of the season with a torn labrum in his shoulder. It was his two-run bomb that turned a 3-2 deficit into a 4-3 Canada lead.
And it couldn't have come at a better time. Until Kaher's blast, the Colts were 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position. In the eighth, Max Kautz coaxed a walk to lead off the inning, bringing up Kaher, who fouled off the first pitch. He took the next pitch as Kautz stole second. On the third pitch, he deposited it over the left-field fence.
"That was big right there. I was struggling earlier in the game," Kaher said, adding that the first pitch he swung at was a breaking ball. On the home run, the Mission pitcher hung a curveball and Kaher didn't miss.
"It was like Christmas," Kaher said. "I can't believe he threw that again."
The blast was exactly the lift the Colts needed. Dan Fernandez followed and reached first when the Mission first baseman could not hold on to a low throw. Reynoso came to the plate and on the first offering, blasted a two-run shot to almost the same spot as Kaher's. Lance Turner rounded out the inning with a double, scoring Robert Carini, who reached on a fielder's choice, stole second and went to third on a wild pitch.
"I thought we came out flat early in the game," Lucca said. "We were fortunate to hit one out of the park."
The Colts were also fortunate to have a pitcher like Aaron Stender in the bullpen. The nominal No. 3 starter the last two years, Stender hasn't seen a lot of time this year with the one-two punch of Brian Belli and Fregosi. But with Fregosi done after only two innings, Lucca summoned Stender from the bullpen.
The sophomore lefty did everything expected of him. He pitched 5 2/3 innings, allowing three runs on six hits.
"We knew we had Stender in our back pocket, so to speak," Lucca said. "He did a great job. He kept us in the ball game. I told him I needed him in the ball game."
After giving up a two-out double in the top of the eighth, Lucca lifted Stender for Nick Alexander, who retired the final batter in the eighth and worked a scoreless ninth to pick up the win.
The victory was the 25th on the season for the Colts, the magic number Lucca figures his team needed to get to earn an at-large bid to the community college playoffs. The seeding meeting is Sunday when the top 18 teams in Northern California and Southern California will be chosen.
The Colts have a number of quality wins this season, including two victories apiece over both College of San Mateo, Skyline -- both are automatic qualifiers -- and 2005 state champion Santa Rosa. But they also suffered two losses to sixth-place DeAnza and dropped a disappointing 10-9 decision to fifth-place Mission. Lucca is hoping that the strong schedule the Colts played will be the deciding factor in earning a playoff spot.
"I feel pretty confident. I sat up with [Canada athletic director and long-time baseball manager Mike] Garcia and hammered it out," Lucca said. "When I have him telling me, 'You look pretty good,' it bolsters the confidence.
"It remains to be seen. We'll come out here and practice (today) like we're in."