It’s a warm day with only a few clouds in the sky. The grass on the baseball field is freshly cut with crisp, crisscrossing lines. It’s quiet, and there are already a couple fans standing above the field at the top of the hill. It’s game day for the Occidental baseball team (27-5 overall, 19-3 SCIAC). A parent sits at the top of the hill, nervously tapping his foot. Charlie Caccamo (senior) waves to what must be a fan.
Riding an 11-game win streak, the Tigers were locked in and ready to beat Cal Lutheran (ranked No. 2 in the SCIAC) in the first game of their last 3-game series of the season Friday. Even with pressure on the team to continue their success, the players were confident and undaunted — and it showed in their 4-1 victory.
“Why would I be nervous?” Reid Gibbs (first year) said.
Cal Lutheran batted first, followed by even play from the Tigers and Kingsmen for three innings. In the fourth inning, Occidental outfielder Jamie Cooper (junior) put the Tigers on the board. Cracking a homer into the outfield, Cooper sent McNeil home, putting the Tigers in a 2-0 lead.
Even with the momentum against them, Cal Lutheran refused to cave, getting on the board at the end of the sixth inning. With the Tigers only up by a run, the atmosphere suddenly became tense.
But putting the team on his back once again, Cooper added insurance with another solid connection at bat, working his way around the bases to put up another run for the Tigers in the seventh inning. At the end of the seventh, the score read 4-1. It remained unchanged as the team took the field in celebration at the end of the ninth.
The Tigers played a tight, organized game defensively, scooping up line-driven balls and zipping them around the bases, making several impressive double plays.
Coming into the game, Cooper knew they needed to win.
“We just want to treat it like it’s any other game,” Cooper said. “Coach was talking about that all week, and so coming into it, you have to not let the moment get the best of you.”
And he did not. While Cooper has been instrumental to the team’s domination the entire season, he credits the team’s closeness as a key to getting consistent wins.
“The group of guys have a good time and really good chemistry,” Cooper said. “We like to hang out, off the field and on the field, and get stuff done.”
Scott Ericksen (senior) was dangerous on the mound, striking out five hitters, walking three batters and only giving up three hits, in nine complete innings.
Going into the 13th game of his senior year, Ericksen was confident about his team’s chances of continuing their winning streak.
“I knew we were gonna step up and play the same baseball we’ve played all year,” Ericksen said.
Ericksen has played on many teams in both high school and college, but feels that this squad is especially close.
“I’d say that this group of guys is the closest group of guys I’ve ever played baseball with,” said Ericksen. “I’d say we’re closer to being a family than a baseball team, and we can trust one another just like a family can trust one another.”
The Tigers are currently ranked No. 1 in the SCIAC conference and No. 8 in the nation going into the weekend. With this first win against Cal Lu under their belts, the momentum — and pressure — only increases.
The Tigers fell to Cal Lu in the second game of the series, but refused to let up, winning the third game 4-3 and taking the series two out of three. Occidental is now gearing up their final four regular season games — played round-robin style — before the start of the SCIAC tournament. They travel to Pomona Wednesday to take on Claremont-Mudd-Scripps.