Baseball one victory away from clinching SCIAC No. 4 seed

36

The Occidental baseball team (18-20 overall, 14-13 SCIAC) entered SCIAC pool play Saturday competing with La Verne (18-20 overall, 14-13 SCIAC) and Redlands (15-22 overall, 14-13 SCIAC) for the fourth-and -final league playoff spot. The squad responded to the pressure positively by winning two of its three weekend contests.

The Tigers split a home doubleheader Saturday, defeating Caltech (1-32 overall, 0-26 SCIAC) via mercy rule 11-1 and dropping a 2-1 heartbreaker to second-place Chapman (27-11 overall, 20-7 SCIAC). They then rounded out the weekend with a dominant 7-0 victory at third-place Whittier (21-17 overall, 17-10 SCIAC) Sunday.

The black and orange did not face much pressure from last-place Caltech, as the unit cruised to an 11-1 victory in a shortened seven innings.

The game served as a breakout opportunity for Weekly staff member and outfielder Devon DeRaad (first-year). The left-hander compiled a 4-for-4 day at the plate and drove in eight of the team’s 11 runs en route to finishing a single shy of the cycle. He pounded a grand slam in the third inning and a solo shot that invoked the 10-run rule in the bottom of the seventh.

DeRaad’s performance took pressure off starter Alec Strain (senior), who picked up the victory on the mound. He tossed five innings and allowed just one run on three hits. Strain was one of 14 Tiger seniors honored before the game, as the class of 2014 took to Andersen Field for the final time in their careers.

However, the overwhelming success against Caltech did not carry over for the Tigers against Chapman in the afternoon cap.

Occidental’s Joe Kling (junior) and the Panther’s Kevin Osaki (senior) developed a pitchers’ duel in a manner reminiscent of their match-up from February 14, when the Tigers notched a 3-1 victory in 12 innings.

“You just have to give [Osaki] a lot of credit,” Kling said. “He was mixing it up, throwing a lot of sliders and we just couldn’t get the big hit when we needed it. But overall, [we had] pretty good approaches at the plate; it was just unfortunate.”

This time, however, the Panthers turned the table despite Kling hurling a gem. The Tiger ace threw a complete game, allowing just one earned on four hits.

But Chapman pushed the winning run across the plate in the top of the ninth when third baseman Tyler Cook (sophomore) hit a sharp ground ball that Occidental shortstop Riley Smith (senior) did not field cleanly. His error allowed Panther second baseman Tim Alhanati (sophomore) to score.

The Tiger offense stranded 12 men on base in the contest, which included leaving the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh after first baseman Johnathan Brooks (junior) narrowly missed a home run with a deep drive down the right field line that hooked foul at the last second.

“[Chapman] did a good job of getting the leadoff out,” Tiger head coach Luke Wetmore said. “It’s harder to run an offense — even with first and second — with one out. From that standpoint, we had opportunities, but they weren’t as advantageous as they could have been.”

But the black and orange did not keep its head down for long.

The squad responded the very next day with a resounding 7-0 victory over playoff-bound Whittier.

Starting pitcher Mitch Margolis (senior) picked up right where Kling left off, going the distance for the third time this season and shutting out the Poets in the process.

Offensively, Occidental took advantage of four Whittier errors to plate seven runs. Four Tigers — catcher Charlie Caccamo (sophomore), second baseman Van Fudge (senior), third baseman A.J. Libunao (junior) and DeRaad —all tallied multi-hit games, while Brooks and Alec Strain each collected two RBI.

Caccamo, typically an infielder, started all three pool play games behind the plate in the absence of injured Victor Munoz (junior), who has been nursing back problems over the course of the campaign. Caccamo controlled the pitching staff and also got the job done with his bat, reaching base at a rate of .462 and laying down two sacrifice bunts against Caltech.

“Small ball is going to be asked of me a lot,” Caccamo said. “We work on it all the time in practice. At this point, you just have to trust it.”

The Tigers held the fourth-place tiebreaker over both La Verne and Redlands and controlled their own destiny for their final game of pool play at Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (CMS) Tuesday.

“We just need to play good baseball; it’s as cliche as it comes,” Wetmore said.

The Tigers were in action at CMS Tuesday at the time of publication. A victory over the Stags would punch Occidental’s ticket to travel to Cal Lutheran Friday to open the second-annual SCIAC Postseason Tournament.