Story and photo by Jesse Muñoz/COC Sports Information Director
VAN NUYS — Sophomore Blake Mann crushed his conference-leading sixth home run of the season and the Cougars' bullpen combined to toss 4 and 2/3 innings of shutout relief, as College of the Canyons began Western State Conference (WSC), South Division play with an 8-4 win over host L.A. Valley College on Tuesday.
Canyons (4-11-1 1-0) fell behind by an early 2-0 score after the first inning of play but quickly answered back with six runs across the next three frames. The win snapped a seven-game winless streak and added a positive note to the beginning of conference competition.
Brendon Vela pushed a run across with his sac-fly in the second that allowed Mann to score. In the third, Mann got a hold of one for a three-run shot that put the game at 4-2 in favor of the Cougars.
L.A. Valley (8-9, 0-1) scored a run on a ground out in third inning against COC starter Ayden Alger. The Monarchs scored two more in the fourth on a similar play which also included an infield error by the Cougars.
In between those outputs, Will Chambers singled home two more runs for Canyons.
Up 6-4 heading into the fifth, Canyons was forced to make a pitching change after Alger recorded a pair of walks to get into a jam. COC head coach Chris Cota brought in Rane Pfeifer in relief.
But Pfeifer ran into some complications of his own before recording an out at home plate on a passed ball that catcher DJ Kougher was able to recover, and then enticing an infield pop-up to end the inning and keep LAVC off the scoreboard.
Alger allowed four runs, three earned, on eight hits and three walks. He also struck out three batters in his 4 and 1/3 innings of work.
Pfeifer (1-1) was credited with the win, while Sam Stulman pitched the final six outs to get the save with two strikeouts along the way.
Mann's sacrifice in the sixth inning tacked on another run to make it a 7-4 affair. He finished the game 2-for-3 with four RBIs, two runs and a pair of stolen bases.
In the ninth Vela tripled to add an insurance run at 8-4.
Alex Ballesteros, Corey Jones and Kougher each had two hits in the game. Ballesteros also walked twice in the contest while Jones swiped a pair of bags. Chambers drew three walks and finished 1-for-2 on the day. Grodell also walked twice and scored two runs.
Monarchs' starter Josh Howitt (1-2) took the loss, walking eight batters and allowing five hits for seven earned runs.
The three-game series shifts back to Cougar Field on Thursday, March 5 with a 2 p.m. first pitch. The series concludes at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, back at LAVC.
Stay up to date on all this season's action by following the College of the Canyons Athletic department on social media at @COCathletics on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.