Cougars without two starters

Taft College plunges into the Central Valley Conference baseball wars today with a trip to Merced but will be without two and perhaps three starters.

The Cougars could be missing at least two starters on the infield when they open a three-game series with the Blue Devils – at Merced Tuesday and Saturday and here on Thursday.

Shortstop Luis Trinidad and versatile infielder/outfielder/catcher Chase Skinner both suffered hamstring injuries in a three-game series in Monterey Friday and Saturday that served as a final tune-up for the conference.

“I said going in that we needed to stay healthy and avoid injuries,” said head coach Vince Maiocco.  “We don’t have a lot of depth, and with those two out it really presents a hardship going into a tough opener at Merced.”

Skinner’s loss could most be felt offensively.

“He is such a scrappy guy,” said Maiocco.  “Losing him will really hurt us offensively.”

The numbers prove it.

Skinner, a sophomore from Las Vegas who transferred from Cerro Coso College in Ridgecrest, is hitting .459, has a .500 on-base average, a .571 slugging average and has stolen 11-of-11 bases.  He leads the team in hits (12) and runs scored (11). 

Trinidad is hitting .278 and playing solid defense.

The third starter ailing is sophomore catcher Pierce Belaustegui, who is hitting .318.

The thing that worries Maiocco the most about his walking wounded is that Skinner backs up Belaustegui, who has been nursing an ankle injury.

The Cougars take a 4-5 record into today’s conference opener after winning 2-of-3 in Monterey.

TC beat Lassen twice, 6-5 in 14 innings and 10-1, but lost to Monterey Peninsula 7-1.

The Cougars got solid pitching, even in the loss.

Southpaw Corey Gilligan worked nine innings of the opener, giving up three earned runs on five hits, struck out four and walked one before retiring.

Freshman Cole Bryant came on with two outs in the 10th after Lassen scored two runs.  He worked four and a third innings, gave up just one hit, struck out six and walked one to get the win.

“He’s had two very good long relief efforts for us,” Maiocco said.

The Cougars tied it with two runs of their own in the bottom of the 10th and scratched out a run on a bases-loaded walk in the 14th to finish the marathon.

Bruce Lewallen worked six and two-thirds to get the second win over Lassen.  He allowed a run on five hits, struck out one and walked four.  Matt Gunderson mopped up.

Allen Sanchez took a shutout against Monterey into the seventh before giving up three runs (2 earned).  He struck out eight and walked two and got 74 percent of his pitches in for strikes.  His relief surrendered a grand slam homer to finish the scoring for Monterey.

The Cougars managed just seven hits off three Lobo pitchers.

Anthony Uran had seven hits for the Cougars in the series and Belaustegui five, including three doubles.  Forrest Smith smacked his second homerun of the season, a line drive over the right field fence in the 10-1 win.

TC takes a 4-5 record into today’s conference opener.  Merced is 6-2.