Author: Alex Nieves
With a current record of 6-0, the Occidental baseball team is already off to its best start in the last decade. Though the 2013 baseball season is just underway, the Tiger squad is already demonstrating potential to be better than last year’s team that posted a 23-16 (18-10 SCIAC) record, compiling their best overall finish since the 1982 season, the last time they won a conference championship.
The team began its campaign with a road trip to Austin College in Texas. The Tigers swept the four-game series, cumulatively out-scoring the Kangaroos 40-18. Then, in a Sunday double header against La Sierra University, the two more wins came in dramatic fashion as the Tigers recorded a pair of walk-off home runs. Riley Smith (junior) and Scott Hong (senior) both hit bombs to left center to end a couple of pitchers’ duels. The final scores of the games were 4-3 and 2-0, respectively.
“I’m going to get old really quick winning like that,” head coach Luke Wetmore said. “I don’t know that I’ve ever heard of doubleheader where both games have ended with walk-off runs.”
While a few starters graduated following the end of last season, the Tigers are returning most of their major contributors. The team welcomes back its top three hitters, Logan Allen, Pedro Aldape and Scott Hong, all of whom are seniors. Last season, Allen was named All-SCIAC, his second time garnering that honor, while Aldape and Hong earned All-West Region honors.
Though these three players have the potential for great individual performances this season, they all have team first mindsets.
“It’s not about the accolades or anything like that,” Allen said. “It’s about winning and turning the program around. I want to help the team win, that’s my goal.”
Besides the prominent senior players, the squad is also full of talented juniors and underclassmen who are ready to fill major roles. Right-handed pitcher Joseph Kling (sophomore) has already solidified himself as a contender on the mound.
Kling is coming off a very successful season last spring, during which he went 4-3 with an ERA of 3.77 over 71.2 innings. Entering this season, Kling is ready to move into the ace role after filling the number two spot on the rotation behind Tyler Eyrich ’12 last season.
Results from a year ago really sparked a change in the atmosphere around the program, and the players on this year’s squad are coming in with more confidence than at any other time in recent memory.
“Last year it was all about doing the best that we can, and I think the tone this year is a little different,” Kling said. “We all know we are capable of big things.”
While the team has very high goals, the coaching staff, led by second-year head coach Luke Wetmore, has made it clear that the players must stay focused.
“Focus on every pitch,” Aldape said when asked about the team goals set out by the coaches. “Like the next pitch is the most important one in the game.”
Next up, the Tigers have a three game series against perennial top ranked opponent Chapman (Feb. 15-16).
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