Author: Lauren Taylor
Last year’s struggles are seemingly in the past for the Occidental baseball team (8-3 overall, 3-0 SCIAC), which is building momentum after a sweep of defending champion Redlands to open SCIAC play last weekend. The team’s three victories over their main rival signaled that the Tigers have legitimate title aspirations.
The three-game series sweep included an extra-inning walk off 3-2 win in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader. Occidental’s second baseman Riley Smith (sophomore) came through in the bottom of the 10th inning with a pinch-hit single, scoring Scott Hong (junior) from second base, clinching the game for the Tigers and setting off a celebration at home plate.
Hong had a great weekend at the plate. In addition to scoring the winning run on Saturday morning, he got things rolling for the Tigers in Friday night’s league opener. He hit the first home run of his Occidental career to spark the team’s 9-6 road victory.
With seven hits in the three games, Hong upped his team-leading batting average to .430, homering again on Saturday and scoring five runs. An outfielder who spent the last two seasons with Orange Coast College before transferring to Occidental, Hong also moonlights as the Tigers’ closer and saved two of the three Occidental wins.
His emergence has allowed Luke Wetmore to settle into a groove in his first year as manager much faster than expected. A year removed from a 13-26 overall record and a sixth-place finish in the SCIAC, Occidental has turned things around, building plenty of confidence after knocking off the Bulldogs.
“We are a completely different team this season,” Wetmore said. “[With our] attitude, mentality, goals and expectations. We moved on from last year from day one and have not looked back.”
A strong junior class has made its impact known, particularly at the plate. Shortstop Logan Allen (junior) was a Second Team All-SCIAC selection last season after batting .391 in league play and has picked up where he left off. Allen is hitting .379 with two home runs and nine RBI in the first eight games.
“I think this year we are a lot more experienced,” Allen said. “Last year we were young, and we had some injuries, but this year a lot of guys have more experience at the plate and are seeing the ball a lot better.”
Wetmore is among those impressed with Allen’s ability to see the ball well.
“Logan plays the game at the same speed, with the same skill set on every pitch,” Wetmore said. “He is exactly the same person in the first inning as he is in the ninth. Baseball is a very difficult game and trying harder just compounds the issue. Logan just plays the game and plays it very well.”
Heading into the season, Wetmore was confident his offense would put runs on the board but was still a little unsure how well his pitching staff would come together.
Pitcher Tyler Eyrich (senior) lived up to his billing as the Tiger’s ace against Redlands. Eyrich came into the game with an impressive 1.81 ERA through the first four starts of the year as the Friday starter. While he gave up five runs and eight hits, Eyrich lasted six strong innings for the Tigers and improved to 3-0 on the season.
“It makes pitching a lot better when you know the offense will put up four or five runs a game,” Eyrich said. “I mean, you know having a couple of runs scored on you isn’t going to cost you a ballgame. “
The Tigers don’t have long to rest before they get a chance to do just that on the diamond again. The University of La Verne will pay a visit to Anderson Field on Friday. Feb. 24 before the Tigers hit the road for a doubleheader against the Leopards on Saturday.
“This is definitely the best team that I’ve seen the entire time I’ve been here,” Eyrich said. “I’m confident. Our hitting has really come around and turned a corner. I think we could be a good team and surprise some people.”
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