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By Steve Breazeale
Six games into the season and the San Clemente baseball team already knows what it feels like to have the pressure on them.
The Tritons have found themselves in one close game after another, which could be a good thing when they open South Coast League play on the road against El Toro on March 17.
The South Coast League will present the Tritons (3-3) with the difficult task of playing the Chargers, sixth-ranked Mission Viejo, Aliso Niguel and Capistrano Valley. With such a quality league, games are expected to be tight.
With the exception of Mission Viejo (5-2) the other four South Coast League squads are hovering right around .500 on the season after playing their nonleague schedules.
“You look around the county and it’s like everybody is beating up on everyone else,” San Clemente coach Dave Gellatly said. “Nobody is getting off to a really hot start. So we’re right with everyone.”
San Clemente is getting used to playing in close games.
Half of the Tritons’ six games this year have been decided by one run, and the Tritons have won two of them. One of San Clemente’s wins came in a 2-1 victory over Santa Margarita in the Loara Tournament on March 9.
The Eagles and the Tritons squared off again on March 14, but this time the Eagles prevailed in a close contest. Santa Margarita got strong pitching from starter Alex Schrier and reliever Chandler Champlain to pick up a 3-0 win.
The key to San Clemente’s steady start has been its pitching. The Tritons pitchers entered Tuesday’s game against the Eagles with a collective 2.16 ERA.
Senior pitcher Nathan Fleuriau turned in a solid effort on the mound against Santa Margarita on Tuesday, but fell victim to a tough frame after going strong for 5 2/3 innings.
Santa Margarita scored twice in the sixth inning with two outs. Josh Nickoloff started the scoring with an RBI double, which drove Fleuriau from the game, and Cole Heslar singled him home to increase the visitor’s lead.
San Clemente had its chance in the home half of the sixth.
The Tritons loaded the bases when Brent Riddle and Mike McGreevy collected singles and Cade Conrad earned a walk. The Eagles then turned to Champlain, a 6-5 USC commit, in relief.
Champlain, facing the heart of the Triton batting order, recorded three strikeouts to get out of the jam.
It was another close contest that the Tritons can rely on for experience when they square off against their league rivals in the coming weeks.
“We’re just going to have to manufacture runs and execute, and we’re going to have to win these close ballgames,” Gellatly said. “I think that’s the way the South Coast League is going to go this year.”