Baseball secures four-seed for first-ever SCIAC Tournament

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Author: Alex Nieves

The Occidental baseball team entered the round-robin section of conference play over the weekend needing to pick up a pair of big wins in order to guarantee a spot in the inaugural SCIAC Tournament. After going 2-1 in the three-game weekend series, the Tigers clinched the four-seed for postseason play and later added a victory against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (CMS) on Tuesday that did not affect their postseason seeding.

The long weekend for Occidental started with a match-up against Caltech as the Tigers celebrated Senior Day. The game was the first of a Saturday doubleheader at Anderson Field. The Tigers went into the contest expecting an easy win over the struggling Beavers and came away with a decisive 10-3 victory.

Occidental was led by solid hitting as the Tigers’ batters simply overpowered Caltech pitching. The mainstays of the Tigers’ lineup came up big, with Senior Pedro Aldape going 2 for 5 with three RBI, and Victor Munoz (sophomore) and Logan Allen (senior) both recording three hits. Senior Scott Hong also added a solo home run over the left field wall.

Alec Strain (junior) started the game for the Tigers and pitched six solid innings, giving up two earned runs on three hits on his way to picking up the win. Strain is now 3-0 on the season.

The Tigers were back on the field just a few hours later to finish off their doubleheader. This time, the squad faced a much stiffer challenge in Pomona-Pitzer, who came into the game second in the SCIAC standings and took the first series against the Tigers 2-1.

The game was tightly contested throughout, but guided by the arm of starting pitcher Hong (5-1), the Tigers were able to pull out a nail-biting 2-1 victory. The win moved Occidental into third place in the conference. Hong pitched a complete game, striking out eight and allowing no earned runs on just four hits.

Offensively, the Tigers struggled against the Sagehens’ ace Jake Bruml (7-3), but were able to pick up five timely hits. Hong, Allen and Munoz notched one hit apiece, while Riley Smith (junior) finished the day 2 for 4. Smith and Hong plated the Tigers’ two RBI in the game, with Hong’s RBI-single to right in the bottom of the seventh providing the decisive run.

“You just grind it out,” Hong said. “That’s what’s expected of me and our coaching staff has trusted me enough to put me in those positions to be successful.”

The final stop on the weekend for Occidental was an away game against Redlands. The Tigers entered the game with an opportunity to clinch the third playoff seed with a win, but came up just short, falling 4-3.

However, the Tigers had no problem getting hits off the Bulldog pitchers. Nine different batters totaled 14 hits, but runs came at a premium.

Smith and Johnathan Brooks (sophomore) came away with first inning RBI to give the Tigers a quick lead, but Redlands responded with three runs of its own in the bottom of the second. Despite an RBI-single in the fifth from Munoz to tie the game, the Bulldogs responded with a run in the seventh to pull ahead. This final run proved to be the dagger for the Occidental.

Sophomore Joseph Kling started on the mound for the Tigers and allowed three earned runs on nine hits. First-year Thomas Lalli pitched 3.1 innings in relief and was credited with the loss after giving up the decisive run.

Despite the loss, Occidental head coach Luke Wetmore expressed how proud he was of his team’s performance over the weekend and the entire season.

“We’ve believed in ourselves all year,” he said. “It hasn’t always been pretty, but these guys compete everyday. They believe in each other, and I could not be happier for our seniors, our program and the college.”

Luckily for the black and orange, La Verne and Chapman, the two schools looking to knock them out of tournament contention, also picked up losses on Sunday. Thus, Occidental clinched at least the four-seed and was still mathematically able to earn the three-seed with a Redlands loss to CMS and its own victory over the Stags on Tuesday. But, Redlands defeated CMS later on Sunday afternoon, meaning a fourth-place finish for the Tigers at the conclusion of the regular season regardless of the Tuesday result.

After the Tigers beat CMS 9-8 on Tuesday evening, they were tied with Redlands at 17-11 in the conference and had a better overall record at 23-16. However, the Bulldogs captured the three-seed based upon a second-level tiebreaker with Occidental of record against the rest of the teams comprising the remainder of the tournament field (Pomona-Pitzer and Redlands), according to the SCIAC postseason rule book.

Occidental will travel to Cal Lutheran on Friday at 3 p.m. for its first round game in the SCIAC Tournament.

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