Tigers defeat Panthers in SCIAC opener

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Author: Daniel Terner

Occidental stole a win from Chapman in the first game of their SCIAC season, walking off on a squeeze play executed by Brady Fuller (junior) and Jonathon Wong (senior) Friday afternoon at Anderson Field .

The Tigers (4-2, 2-1 SCIAC) trailed 4-1 with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning before rallying to tie the score. Then, with runners on second and third, Fuller laid down a perfect bunt as Wong raced down the third base line and slid safely home under the catcher’s tag to seal a 5-4 victory.

“They had their infield in and when we called the squeeze bunt it’s just up to me to do whatever I have to do to get it down,” Fuller said. “And then John Wong is fast on third, so he’ll take it from there. It was just another at-bat.”

The unlikely rally was inspired by the heart of the Tiger’s batting order. After catcher Victor Munoz (senior) singled with one out in the bottom of the ninth, Devon DeRaad* (sophomore) ripped a double off the wall in right center, putting runners at second and third. Third baseman AJ Libunao (senior) stepped to the plate next and lined a single to center. Pinch runner Jeffrey Johnson (senior) came around to score on the hit, which led the Panthers’ manager to change pitchers in an attempt to halt the rally.

But the momentum had already swung in the Tigers’ favor. The Chapman reliever threw a wild pitch to Wong—the first batter he faced—that scored DeRaad from third base for Occidental’s third run. Wong would later walk in the at-bat.

Head coach Luke Wetmore then called for a hit-and-run play, which the Tigers executed to near perfection to tie the score. Both Libunao on second and Wong on first took off in what looked like a double steal, but pinch hitter Derek Sun (first-year) swung and slapped the incoming pitch into the hole between first and second. The Chapman second-baseman, who had been moving towards second base to cover in case of a throw, had no chance at the ball, which rolled into right field as Libunao raced around third base to score. Meanwhile, Wong, the eventual winning run, rounded second and slid safely into third on the play.

“It was a lot of fun, my legs just stopped shaking a few minutes ago,” Wetmore said after the game. “There are a lot of things we need to do better, the guys know that. But they competed. They never gave up. They never stopped fighting. If your guys do that, you got a shot at winning every game.”

The Tigers won Friday’s game despite struggling offensively for most of it—the only hit they managed through the first eight innings was a fourth inning RBI double down the third-base line by Libunao (2-4, two RBIs).

On the other side, the Panthers sent a strong lineup to the plate that challenged the Oxy defense all afternoon. To keep themselves in the game, the Tigers relied on timely defense and veteran pitching.

Senior Joe Kling started the game on the mound for Occidental, pitching all nine innings for a complete game with 106 pitches. Until the end of the game, it looked as though Kling (2K, 4ER) was going to take a tough loss, but he kept the Tigers in the game all afternoon by throwing strikes with both his fastball and his breaking ball.

While the defense let Kling down in the fourth with a costly error, several Tigers made outstanding, run-saving plays. In the third inning, Scott Ericksen (junior) made a leaping, over-the-shoulder catch in left field with runners on second and third and no outs, likely saving a run. Kling also helped himself by making a couple impressive snags. Later, right-fielder DeRaad likely saved at least one run in the top of the seventh, crashing into the wall with runners on first and third to make the catch for the first out of the inning.

“We played nine innings,” DeRaad said when asked what his team did well in Friday’s victory. “We didn’t put it together offensively for the first eight innings but we stuck with it. I’m proud of everyone for not going away. After getting hit a little bit, we got back up and stole that game.”

DeRaad, who has started the season red-hot, added to his 1-3, one RBI day on Friday by going 5-8 with three RBIs in Saturday’s doubleheader at Chapman.

Though the Tigers lost the Saturday morning game 6-4, the outfielder reached base in all five plate appearances in the final game of the series, leading the Tigers to an 8-2 victory and a series win. With a home run in the later game, DeRaad now has five home-runs, 11 runs scored and is batting .571 this season in 21 at-bats through six games.

The Tigers will next take the field Friday afternoon at Caltech. They then play a doubleheader at home on Saturday.

*DeRaad is a photographer for the Weekly.

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