Author: Tim O’Donnell
After winning two straight series, the Occidental baseball team (16-19 overall, 12-12 SCIAC) suffered a setback over the weekend against Pomona-Pitzer (15-20 overall, 11-13 SCIAC). The Sagehens swept the Tigers in dominant fashion by scores of 12-0 (7 innings), 6-2 and 14-4.
But the Tigers remain in the hunt for the fourth-and final playoff spot along with Pomona-Pitzer, Redlands (13-21 overall, 12-12 SCIAC) and La Verne (15-19 overall, 11-12 SCIAC).
The series did not reflect how the Tigers had been playing of late. The squad was fresh off taking two-of-three from both Redlands and La Verne.
Previously, the black and orange dropped a pair of tight sets to national powerhouse and SCIAC No. 1 Cal Lutheran (27-8 overall, 18-6 SCIAC) and No. 3 Whittier (20-15 overall, 16-8 SCIAC).
The Tigers refuse to panic about the sweep, however, and believe that a return to solid, fundamental baseball is all that is required to bounce back.
“I feel like we really need to just focus on what we’ve been doing all year,” second baseman Charlie Caccamo (sophomore) said. “We can only control what we do, and if we win our games, we control our destiny.”
Although the Tigers have not performed at last season’s level, a year in which head coach Luke Wetmore guided the program to a school-best 26 wins, the unit still has an opportunity to reach the 20-win mark and has had numerous individuals deliver standout seasons.
“We’re in the right spot,” Wetmore said. “It’s been a tough season. It’s been a little bit more of a grind. It hasn’t been as ‘fun’ as some other years. But the guys have worked hard; they’ve committed to what were asking of them. We just haven’t had consistent play for the first 35 games.”
On the mound, Mitch Margolis (senior) has moved into the No. 2 spot in the rotation after switching between starting and relief roles in past seasons. He currently ranks second in the SCIAC with 64 strikeouts and has picked up six victories while posting a 3.28 ERA. Friday starter Joe Kling (junior) is right behind Margolis with a 3.32 ERA.
Offensively, the Tigers struggled early, but the bats have heated up as the season progresses. Junior first baseman Johnanthan Brooks has proved a model of consistency at the plate, tallying a .319 batting average with three home runs and 24 RBI to date. Despite battling a back injury all season, catcher Victor Munoz (junior) leads the team with a .337 average, while second baseman Riley Smith (senior) has complemented a .305 average with three home runs and nine stolen bases.
The program has also seen many promising performances from its younger players. Several first-years — most notably Walker Marks, Nolan Watson and Weekly staff member Devon DeRaad — have taken on everyday roles and have gained valuable experience for the future. Marks has shown versatility in the field, playing both shortstop and second base while also providing insurance as Munoz’s backup behind the dish. Watson has emerged as the team’s third starter and has a complete-game shutout to his credit, while DeRaad has shown flashes of power by blasting a home run and eight doubles.
The Pomona-Pitzer series served as the final three-game set of the regular season before pool play begins on Saturday. The scheduling for pool play is based off of the current standings, but the games will count toward final conference records and determine the final seeding for the second-annual four-team SCIAC Tournament.
Each SCIAC team is also guaranteed two home games in pool play. The Tigers will host last-place Caltech (1-29 overall, 0-23 SCIAC) and a Chapman team (25-10 overall, 18-6 SCIAC) that has won nine of its last 10 games to streak into a first-place tie with Cal Lutheran on Saturday at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., respectively.
The black and orange will then travel to Whittier on Sunday before finishing off pool play on Tuesday at No. 8 Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (13-22 overall, 9-15 SCIAC).
Cal Lutheran, Chapman and Whittier have all essentially locked up playoff spots, but Wetmore believes that the Tigers can compete with all three if they qualify for the conference tournament.
“In a one-game type situation where it’s just us against [Cal Lutheran and Whittier], I think we stack up really well,” Wetmore said. “[Chapman] will be for sure our toughest team to face. If we play them tough, you never know what’s going to happen there.”
The Tigers are determined to take care of business in pool play before focusing on the tournament. They will try to move past the Sagehen series and recapture their more recent success in order to secure the fourth playoff spot.
“We need to have an assertive hitting plan,” Munoz said. “Pitchers need to stay down in the zone, and the defense just has to make the plays that need to be made.”
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