Johnson steals home, salvages Pomona-Pitzer series

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The Occidental baseball team finished last weekend with late inning theatrics. Tied 4-4 in the bottom of the eighth inning of the final game against Pomona-Pitzer, pinch runner Jeff Johnson (senior) stole home to score the winning run for the Tigers. With the win the Tigers improve to 17-9 overall and 13-5 in SCIAC play, moving into third place in the conference.

The risky play call was a result of the Tigers’ offensive struggles all weekend. The Tigers’ 9-0 loss at Pomona-Pitzer on Friday was the result of errors in the field and lackluster hitting. In what seems to be a trend this season, Joe Kling (senior) pitched well into the sixth inning without allowing an earned run, but was hurt by the team’s defensive mistakes, as the Tigers have tallied 50 errors in their 26 games. The early game on Saturday ended in similar fashion, with a final score of 9-1.

The excitement Saturday started with the Tigers down 4-1 in the bottom of the seventh, when catcher Victor Munoz (senior) sparked the Oxy offense with a double to center field. A hit by left-fielder Jake Chambers (junior) brought Munoz home in a collision at the plate. The ball was knocked from the catcher’s glove and Munoz was given the run. However, Munoz was ejected from the game for targeting the catcher.

“I definitely was surprised by the call,” Munoz said after the game. “I went cleats down straight for the bag. It wasn’t good that I got tossed, but if it gives us some energy then I’ll take it.”

Coach Luke Wetmore agreed that the play was a pivotal point in the game.

“We don’t teach our guys to look for contact,” Wetmore said. “But the umpire did a good job managing the situation. And in the end the play provided an emotional jolt to the team and kick started us.”

Next, center fielder Jonathan Wong’s (senior) stand up double scored Chambers. Later in the inning shortstop Walker Marks (junior) got in on the action when he escaped a rundown, distracting the Sagehens long enough to allow Wong to dash home to tie the game.

“We want to make them make a long throw, so when they went for Walker at second I took off.” Wong said. “It wasn’t planned, but that’s something we work on in practice.”

Jonathan Brooks (senior) had a big day at the plate, hitting a home run in the first game of the day and belting a double to set up Johnson’s eighth inning steal in the second game.

“There are a couple things that have to go right for that to happen,” Wetmore said. “Jeff did a really great job of getting the right lead and going hard, that’s really what it requires.”

In both games, young Occidental starters worked past early scoring to settle into solid outings. Nolan Watson (sophomore) managed to keep Saturday’s first game close into the seventh inning after three early inning home runs. Likewise, Riley James (junior) calmed down after giving up runs in the first three innings to keep the Tigers in striking distance.

With the shift in standings, La Verne, Occidental’s next opponent, moves into first place in SCIAC.

“La Verne can hit just like Pomona and it looks like they’re pitching well,” Wetmore said. “I’ve already talked with the team about coming to work on Tuesday to prep for the weekend. We want to be champions Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and just play baseball on Saturday and Sunday.”

The Tigers take on the Leopards at home Friday at 3 p.m. and at La Verne Saturday at 11 a.m and 2 p.m.

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