After a tough loss in the series opener against Redlands Friday, the Occidental baseball team (17-5 overall, 12-3 SCIAC) came back strong, winning the next two games against the Bulldogs in decisive fashion Saturday. The series victory allowed the Tigers to take control of first place in SCIAC.
The first game of the series at Anderson Field was all Redlands. The Bulldogs put on an offensive show and stifled the Tiger offense for a staggering 11-1 defeat, snapping Occidental’s 13 game win streak.
Oxy could not overcome the pitching performance of Redlands ace Felix Minjarez. Outfielder Eamon McNeil (first year) admitted that the Tigers were nervous going into the game, allowing themselves to get psyched out, especially the first years.
“That was our first real big game,” McNeill said. “Even though it was at home it was new atmosphere for [the first years].”
But in the second game of the series, the first years recuperated and carried the team to a lofty win.
First-year pitcher Will Martel was an ace on the mound. Martel, who leads the SCIAC in ERA, shut down the Bulldogs’ explosive offense. He pitched a complete game, striking out four batters and giving up only two earned runs.
On the offensive side, McNeil had a massive day at the plate, going 3 for 5 and tallying four RBIs.
“When you can put a lot of runs on the board and the pitcher can get you back in the dugout really quick, that’s a huge momentum boost,” McNeil said.
The fifth inning was pivotal, as the Tigers scored seven runs. Catcher Bryan Smith (first year) doubled down the line, scoring both McNeil and second baseman Graham Pimm (junior). Outfielder Jack Brancheau (first year) scored three runs, and eight other Tigers recorded hits during the 9-2 rout of the Bulldogs.
Third baseman Charlie Caccamo (senior), a leader on and off the field, has been impressed by the outstanding play of the first years.
“I can’t remember a time when freshmen have made that big of an impact,” Caccamo said. “We did a good job in the fall of incorporating everyone into what we do as a program.”
As impressively as the first years have performed, Caccamo, for his part, has helped the veterans carry their own weight. He has one of the highest batting averages in the conference (.380) and has driven home 14 RBIs and scored 14 runs on the season.
After splitting the first two games, the Tigers fought a back-and-forth battle throughout game three.
In the sixth inning, the Tigers found themselves down 4-3. Shortstop Reid Gibbs (first year) stepped up to the plate and delivered. Gibbs, who had already scored twice on the day, blasted a three-run homer to put the Tigers up 6-4.
“At that point, it was like alright, we’re supposed to win this game,” McNeil said. “It was such a momentum boost for us, we were just hyped.”
In the top of the ninth inning, the Tigers and Bulldogs were tied 6-6 after two Redlands runs. Enter designated hitter Devon DeRaad (junior). DeRaad, who leads the SCIAC in home runs and was recently named to the D3baseball.com Team of the Week, tripled down the right field line, bringing home Caccamo for the go-ahead run. The Tigers went up 7-6 and held on for the win.
The Tigers came away with another win that came down to the final inning, a familiar experience for the team. During their long stretch of wins, the Tigers won several close games, including two that ended on walk-offs in extra innings. Caccamo acknowledged the confidence the Tigers have been exhibiting during these wire-to-wire games.
“We’ve been in some close games during this 13 game streak, and nobody ever felt like we were gonna lose any one of those games,” Caccamo said.
Because of the team’s tight-knit community, first years like Brancheau feel like there is no disconnect between themselves and upper division student-athletes.
“There never was division between the classes, which I think is huge because we get along so well and have a lot of chemistry on and off the field,” Brancheau said. “There really isn’t anything that separates us.”
In the most recent ABCA Top 30 Poll, the Tigers received national recognition, ranking No. 22 in the nation prior to this series.
After this critical series win against Redlands — who was ranked one spot ahead of Occidental nationally — the Tigers face a formidable opponent in Pomona-Pitzer, with a home game this Friday at 3 p.m. and a Saturday doubleheader at home at 11 a.m.