Extra innings proved to be too much for the Occidental baseball team (19-16, 14-10) as the Tigers dropped all three games—two of which extended past nine innings—in a vital series against Cal Lutheran over the weekend. Occidental lost the opening game on the road in a 6-5, 10 inning nail bitter before falling 7-5 in 11 innings and 14-0 in a home doubleheader.
The losses drop Occidental to sixth place in the SCIAC standings with just four games left to play before the start of the SCIAC playoffs. Despite the tough outing against Cal Lutheran, the Tigers sit just two games back of Redlands for the fourth and final spot in the playoff bracket. The team sits three games behind Cal Lutheran, Pomona-Pitzer and La Verne, which currently hold a tie for the conference lead.
“We’ve got four more games, we’re definitely now on the outside looking in. We have to win all four, that’s the bottom line,” head coach Luke Wetmore said. “I’m sure there’s some mathematical formula to tell if we are eliminated or not, but really it’s just about us going about our business and doing everything we can to put ourselves in that tournament.”
With the score tied in the top of the 10th inning in the opening game of the series, shortstop Walker Marks (sophomore) drove in center fielder Jonathan Wong (senior) on an RBI-double to right field, giving the Tigers a 5-4 lead. But shaky pitching in the bottom of the 10th—including three walks and one hit batter—led to the two runs that the Kingsmen needed to seal the victory.
The Tigers fought back to force the second game into extra innings, erasing a 5-3 Cal Lutheran lead in the bottom of the seventh inning. After left fielder Jeffrey Johnson (senior) and second basemen Charlie Caccamo (junior) both laced singles, first baseman Johnathan Brooks (senior) walked to load the bases with no outs. But pitcher Trey Saito was able to then strike out catcher Victor Munoz (senior) and right fielder Devon DeRaad* (junior), and it looked as though Cal Lutheran would be able to get out of the jam. That is when third basemen A.J. Libunao (senior) ripped a single down the third base line, driving in Johnson and Caccamo, who slid in safe just under the tag of Cal Lutheran’s catcher.
The score stayed locked at 5-5 until the bottom of the 11th inning, when the Occidental defense was again struck by the error issues that have plagued the team this season. With a man on first and no outs, the Kingsmen laid down a bunt that pitcher Will Nahmens (sophmore) fielded and tossed to first. But the throw sailed into right field, scoring the runner from first, and the subsequent throw from DeRaad flew out of play, scoring the hitter.
The Tigers were unable to make up the two-run deficit in the bottom of the 11th, losing 7-5.
“All but two or three half innings, the guys did what they needed to do to be successful,” Wetmore said. “That’s the way the game goes, you give a good team a little bit extra and they make you pay for it.”
Occidental was simply outmatched in the finally game of the series, giving up 15 hits in a 14-0 blowout.
Despite the losses, Brooks was able to continue his record-breaking season at the plate, extending his hitting streak to 28 games before it was finally broken up in the final game of the series. He finished the weekend two for seven with a home run and two RBIs.
According to Wetmore, Brooks’ hitting streak is very likely the longest in Occidental baseball history.
“The key was not thinking about it,” Brooks said about the hitting streak. “I reminded myself that I wanted to focus on enjoying my senior year and just having fun. I took that mentality to the plate, and I always reminded myself that no pitcher could beat me.”
Johnson finished the series hitting six for 10 with an RBI. For Johnson, who played with the now defunct junior varsity team over the last three seasons and earned a spot on varsity at the beginning of this season, the Cal Lutheran series marked his first time starting all three games in a series.
After going one for four in his first career start against Willamette University April 11, Johnson is seven for 14 hitting as a starter.
“It feels good to have the work recognized, and even more important than that, to see the results of three years of work,” Johnson said. “It would have been a lot better if we won though. I mean that’s what it’s all about.
“I want to keep playing, I want to have more than four games left. I want to keep playing with this team, because it’s been a great experience.”
The Tigers return to the diamond with a doubleheader against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps and Cal Lutheran on Saturday, April 25. The three-day SCIAC Tournament begins on May 1.
*Devon DeRaad is a member of The Occidental Weekly.