Sophomore pitcher Justin Zielinski threw another gem, freshman designated hitter Trey Ryan came up with a clutch hit in the bottom of the ninth inning and Irvine Valley's baseball team won an important Orange Empire Conference game over Saddleback, 2-1, at Irvine Valley on Thursday afternoon.
The win moved Irvine Valley (18-15 overall and 8-10 in conference) into a tie for fifth place with Saddleback (21-12 overall and 8-10 in conference) and Riverside in the conference standings with three games left in the season. And all three squads are just a game behind Fullerton for fourth place.
The teams are fighting for a chance at the Southern California Regional Playoffs.
Irvine Valley plays at Saddleback to finish the three-game set on Friday at 2 p.m. Each team has now won a game in the series.
The right-handed Zielinski continued to marvel for IVC, throwing his sixth complete game of the season. He earned his seventh win (7-2) of the year after giving up one run on 10 hits and one walk with two strikeouts. Zielinski's ERA moved to 0.87 in 83 innings pitched so far this year.
The lone run he allowed was a solo home run to Ryan Fitzpatrick over the left field fence in the top of the sixth inning.
The homer tied the game at 1-1.
Alex King followed the home run with a single and then Casey Worden walked with one out in the sixth inning for Saddleback.
But Zielinski escaped further trouble by getting Jack Kaloogian to ground into an inning-ending double play.
Irvine Valley had a chance to move in front in the bottom of the sixth inning after sophomore right fielder Brett Hamilton doubled to lead off the frame.
He moved to third base on a sacrifice bunt by freshman center fielder Dillon Millar.
But Hamilton was tagged out at home after Saddleback pitched out on an attempted squeeze bunt play by IVC.
Saddleback had a runner reach second base in both the seventh and eighth innings, but Zielinski was able to close each inning out without giving up any runs.
And after Saddleback went 1-2-3 in the top of the ninth inning, Irvine Valley made its mark in the bottom of the ninth.
With one out, freshman shortstop Jordan Gillerman singled on a bunt to third base. He moved to second on a pitch in the dirt and then freshman Robbie Espinosa stepped in as a pinch hitter and lined a single to right field off Saddleback's Brett Barker to put runners on first and third. Freshman Alex Diaz ran for Espinosa and stole second.
Barker then walked IVC sophomore third baseman Zach Vittetow to load the bases.
With the Saddleback infield in, Ryan hit a walk-off single through the right side. IVC players mobbed Ryan after he touched first base.
Barker took the loss in relief. He pitched 2.2 innings and gave up one run on three hits and one walk with three strikeouts.
Domnique Key started for the Gauchos and went 5.2 innings, giving up one run on six hits and five walks with two strikeouts.
Saddleback, which finished with 10 hits, was paced at the plate by Fitzpatrick, who went 2 for 3 with the home run. Dan James went 2 for 4 with a double and Dylan Diaz was 2 for 5 for Saddleback.
Hamilton went 3 for 4 with a double and one RBI. He drove in the first run of the game in the bottom of the third inning with a single.
And Gillerman had his fourth two-hit game in IVC's last six contests, going 2 for 4 with a run scored.