The Occidental baseball team (9-11 overall, 7-5 SCIAC) churned out a successful week on the diamond, producing in every facet of the game to finish 5-3 over the course of spring break. The squad’s resurgence culminated in an 11-2 victory over No. 12 California Lutheran on Sunday afternoon.
Tiger head coach Luke Wetmore attributed the team’s breakthrough to the noticeable improvement he saw in the batter’s box, something that was absent during a previous stretch before taking on Caltech in which Occidental lost six of eight games.
“The bats have started to come alive,” Wetmore said. “We’ve been stringing some hits together and moving runners around the diamond.”
Since the series against George Fox University on Feb. 21-22, the black and orange has raised its collective batting average roughly 30 points.
The Tigers played eight games in eight days this past week, starting with a home-and-away series sweep against Caltech.
The Tigers took Game 1 on the road, defeating the Beavers 11-0 in seven innings via the mercy rule. Pitchers Joe Kling (junior), C.J. Murayama (sophomore) and Trevor Lecka (sophomore) combined for seven scoreless innings and allowed just four hits.
Catcher Victor Munoz (junior) and third baseman A.J. Libunao (junior) provided the pop on offensive, as Munoz finished the day 3-for-3 and Libunao broke the game open in the fourth inning with a bases-loaded triple.
Caltech played tighter in Game 2 at Anderson Field, but the black and orange pulled out a 3-2 victory behind starter Mitch Margolis’ (senior) five innings of one run ball. Riley James (first-year) finished the game with a four inning save, giving up no earned runs.
The Tigers duplicated the results of Game 1, sealing a 13-3 victory in a shortened seven innings again via the mercy rule.
Occidental then took a break from SCIAC play to host two East Coast squads from Drew University and Ithaca College, who made the trip out west from New Jersey and New York, respectively.
Pitcher Nolan Watson (first-year) picked up his first collegiate win against Drew on Monday as the Tigers cruised to an 8-0 victory. The newcomer tossed six shut-out innings and allowed just one hit.
Left fielder Chris Strain (junior) served as a break-out performer at the plate. He finished the day 2-for-2 with a walk and three RBI, including double to left center that scored two in the bottom of the sixth and put the game out of reach.
After four straight games in which the pitching staff only surrendered a total of five runs, the Tigers ran into trouble against Ithaca, who came to Los Angeles with a No. 15 national ranking. The Bombers trounced the Tigers 16-5, tallying 24 hits in the process. Wetmore had to use eight different pitchers in the contest. None of the Tiger arms lasted longer than 1.2 innings.
“We just got away from a game plan a little bit,” Kling said. “We left a few balls up.”
But Kling himself answered the call to get the staff back on track against SCIAC powerhouse Cal Lutheran in a 4-1 loss. The 6-foot-2 junior went head-to-head with reigning 2013 SCIAC Player and Newcomer of the Year Jake Petersen (senior) Friday at Anderson field. Both pitchers threw complete games, but the Kingsmen managed to scatter four runs (three earned) on six hits, and the Tigers could not give Kling the run support he needed to pick up his third victory.
“Joe is an absolute competitor,” Wetmore said. “I’d venture to say there’s nobody in the conference who competes the way he does on the mound.”
Occidental completed its long week with a doubleheader in Thousand Oaks, Calif., on Saturday. The Tigers dropped a tight one 4-3 to the Kingsmen in Game 1 and rebounded with a nine-run victory in Game 2.
In the top of the ninth in Game 1 with the Tigers trailing 3-1 and facing Cal Lutheran’s all-time saves leader Aaron Roth (senior), Tiger first baseman Johnathan Brooks (junior) and shortstop Riley Smith (senior) both collected RBI-singles to tie the contest at three.
But Cal Lutheran answered in the bottom half of the frame when second baseman Kyle Sanchez (first-year) reached on an error by Occidental second baseman Walker Marks (first-year) and stole second base. Kingsmen pinch-hitter Atherton Kniseley (sophomore) then drove in the winning run off Tiger reliever David Feasler (senior) with an RBI-single.
The black and orange was then able to notch the 11-2 win in Game 2 on the shoulders of Brooks’ five-hit, four-RBI performance. Second baseman Charlie Caccamo (sophomore) also tallied four hits in five at-bats, while Watson picked up another victory on the mound, hurling eight innings and allowing two runs off four hits.
“Everyone is more committed to the pitch and seeing what they’re going to see,” Brooks said. “Early on [in the season], everyone was trying to be the hero. But when we settled down and everyone realized their role and realized what they were going to get, that’s when we started hitting better.”
The Tigers return to action Saturday, hosting non-conference opponent Rutgers-Newark at Anderson Field for a doubleheader. First pitches are scheduled for 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.