Author: Damian Mendieta (Senior Writer)
After a three-week dry period for the Occidental Baseball team, the Tigers are back in the race for first place in the SCIAC with a three-game sweep of Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (CMS). After a three-game losing streak, ace Tyler Eyrich (senior) shut out the Stags 7-0 in the first game. Pitchers Joseph Kling (first-year) and Matt Malott (sophomore) increased the Tiger’s win streak to three after holding CMS to one run in Saturday’s doubleheader. Occidental remains third (12-6) in the SCIAC but within striking distance of No. 1 California Lutheran University (Cal Lu) (14-4) and No. 2 University of La Verne (14-4).
The Tigers’ offense showed up early in the first game on Friday, with Scott Hong (junior) scoring a run off of Pedro Aldape’s (junior) line drive. Jonathan Brooks (first-year) scored Occidental’s second run, after moving to second on A.J. Libuano’s (first-year) sacrifice, advancing to third off Kevin Ozaki’s (senior) single. Then Dan Kelley’s (senior) single drove him home.
A four-run seventh inning sealed the win for Occidental. Eyrich’s performance left the Stags unable to capitalize on their few scoring opportunities. With Stag Scott Witte (sophomore) in scoring position, Eyrich retired the next two batters to end the inning. The Stags could not muster a late rally in the eighth when Eyrich struck out Michael Erb (sophomore) with runners on first and second.
Before its victories against CMS, the team had endured a rough patch after it was swept in a three-game series versus Cal Lu. Now, the players are back just as good as before. Coach Luke Wetmore asserts that he pushed his team to remember what got them to a first place tie in mid-March. “We didn’t talk about winning the conference or being over .500, we didn’t talk about having a better record than last year,” Wetmore said. “It was more about being in a position to win every game.”
The players have seen a noticeable increase in positive reinforcement on the part of the coaching staff. “Coach Wetmore has allowed us to relax a little bit,” catcher Brent Wunner (senior) said. “In years past we’ve been a little pushy, a little forced into what we were doing and not really focused on the baseball game but more focused on other aspects.”
The positive mindset was one of several factors that allowed the team to weather a six game losing streak. Support for each other was also
prevalent, outfielder Hong added. Hong asserted that the Tigers’ struggles were normal for an up and coming team.
“I think we pressured ourselves too much with high expectations because we saw success, and I think that’s totally normal,” Hong said. “I think we should expect success from ourselves, but I think we’ve gotten to a point where that’s suffocated us a little bit.”
The recent baseball successes are a significant change from last year’s sixth place finish. According to Wetmore, a deep recruiting class has factored into the Occidental’s top three SCIAC standing. This recruiting class includes Jon Wong, Libuano, Brooks and Kling, who have proved vital members of the team’s success.
Wetmore asserts that the team’s motivation changed after they stopped focusing on competing. “I think with being in first place twelve games in and beating some teams we hadn’t traditionally beaten in the past, we started to look at our season in terms of wins and losses,” Wetmore said. “We started to focus on the results too much.”
Wunner suggested reasons that have hindered the team’s success. “If we don’t produce in the first two innings, we try to force things,” Wunner said. “We have to make a change right there. Sometimes we try to do too much, we swing at pitches that aren’t our pitch.”
Fresh off the sweep of CMS, the Tigers can next be seen on Friday at 3:00 p.m. when they kick off a three game series at Whittier.
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