Baseball captures four-seed, eyes SCIAC Tournament

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Author: Zach Heerwagen

A 14-4 victory on the back end of Saturday’s doubleheader tied last year’s mark of 23 victories for the Occidental baseball program and put the squad back in control of its own destiny with only four games remaining in the regular season. With some clutch wins down the stretch, the team could make an impact in the first-ever SCIAC Tournament beginning on May 3.

After enduring two straight 2-1 losses against Pomona-Pitzer on Friday and in the first game on Saturday, Occidental’s bats rallied in the third game of the series to launch the team back into sole possession of the four-seed in the SCIAC.

The first game of the series came down to the final inning when Alec Strain (junior) was thrown out trying to score from first base on a Riley Smith’s (junior) double. Despite six strong innings from Joseph Kling (sophomore), the Tigers were simply out-matched by Sagehens pitcher Jake Bruml, who didn’t allow any earned runs in his complete-game victory, improving to 7-0 on the season.

The second game had a similar dynamic to the the first, with the team coming up short offensively despite a seven-inning outing from starting pitcher Scott Hong (senior), who allowed both of his earned runs on a Bruml home run in the first inning. Hong picked up his first loss of the season on the mound after grounding into a force out in the bottom of the ninth inning with the bases loaded.

Though the team lost the contest, four-year starting shortstop Logan Allen (senior) broke yet another record after already surpassing the all-time hits mark on April 13. This time, it was the doubles record that fell as he broke a three-way tie with Mike Kniseley ‘90 and Matt Andersen ‘08 by hitting the 38 two-bagger of his career.

“It feels really good to have years of hard work pay off, especially when it plays a part in the program having the success we knew we could have,” Allen said.

The final game of the series had a completely different tone to it. The Tigers scored a run in the first and second innings before breaking things open with a six-run third inning. First-year pitcher C.J. Maruyama allowed just two earned runs through six innings of work to improve to 5-1 on the season.

“The win came from a collected team effort,” Maruyama said. “We had been knocked down and lost three games in a row, but we came back strong offensively. It’s awesome that our team has tied last year’s number of wins in a season.”

The addition of Chapman to the conference extends the SCIAC schedule this season by four games, which will be played round-robin style based on seeding. Currently, SCIAC seeds three through six are separated by only two games. Occidental is the owner of the final playoff spot pending this weekend’s results.

“Having nothing to play for can really put a damper on the season and the tournament puts quality baseball on the table all the way up until that final game, which is what the student-athlete experience deserves,” head coach Luke Wetmore said.

Although the Tigers have a chance to pass last year’s mark of 23 victories on Saturday, Wetmore is not focused on his team’s record. Instead, his goals are set higher for the black and orange: making it deep into the postseason.

“It is what it is, I’d love to [pass last year’s record] but our goal isn’t to win a game or set records,” he said. “It’s to win a national championship. We ask ourselves if we are coaching, practicing and playing at national-championship level, and if the answer is no, then we know we have to change something.”

The SCIAC is normally a one-bid league, so the Tigers will have to win the conference tournament outright in order to advance to this year’s NCAA Tournament.

The men host a doubleheader this Saturday against Caltech at 11 a.m. and Pomona-Pitzer at 3 p.m. They then travel to Redlands on Sunday at 11 a.m. and to Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (CMS) on Tuesday at 3 p.m.

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