It’s been a tale of two very different seasons for the Pomona-Pitzer and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps baseball teams this year. Entering the Sixth Street rivalry baseball series last weekend, the teams were heading in opposite directions.
The Stags (15-12-1, 8-10 SCIAC) are on the verge of finishing the season with a winning record, and, heading into the weekend, were only two games out from fourth place in the SCIAC. If CMS can finish in the top four, the team will qualify for its first SCIAC tournament appearance since 2011, and successfully overcome a one-week suspension for hazing activity.
The Sagehens (17-15, 7-14 SCIAC), on the other hand, had struggled, winning only five of the 18 conference games they had played entering the weekend. But despite the difference in the standings, all bets were off for the rivalry series.
P-P walked away with the 2-1 series win after sweeping the final two games over the Stags — CMS held on for a close 2-1 win in the first game Friday, but fell 5-3 and 13-5 in the next two games.
Ryan Long PO ’21, a pitcher for the Sagehens, hesitated when asked if a win over CMS was more meaningful than defeating another team. But he eventually said there was certainly a bonus, if only a small one.
“It has a little bit of something added because you’re on campus with these guys and you can hold it that you took the season series,” he said. He was also quick to remember the recent history of the Sixth Street rivalry.
“We actually haven’t lost a season series against CMS since 2006, so we’ve won the weekend for 13 straight years,” Long said. “So that’s definitely a reason for us to keep winning [the series].”
Shortstop Zach Clarke CM ’20 agreed that victories against P-P are worth more than regular SCIAC games, and appreciated that the Stags picked up one win over the Sagehens last weekend.
“This year, they aren’t the most competitive team, so a win over Chapman or a win over Occidental means maybe a little bit more in terms of who we are as a team and kind of assessing our own ability,” Clarke said. “But my first two years here we got swept by [P-P] twice, and it was super frustrating, and to be able to take a game from them and just kind of hold that with you is kind of exciting.”
Clarke’s feelings about playing P-P hint at ones many athletes at the 5Cs share: Sixth Street matchups mean a lot. The rivalries in each sport contain their own histories and traditions, and baseball is no different.
On the walk up to CMS’ Arce Field from the P-P locker room, the Sagehens shout a verse from the Old Testament in unison. A designated reader on the team yells out passages, which the rest of the players chant loudly back at him.
“It was started by a religious studies major in 2006 and it’s a loud chant … as we walk through CMC,” Long said. “The goal is to annoy as many people as possible, I believe.”
He also said there’s an element of gamesmanship not uncommon to Sixth Street matchups.
“It works best at 7:30 in the morning when we walk up there on Saturdays and we can wake half the campus up,” Long said.
These traditions are a part of why the rivalries are so fun. But there is also an added pressure in the matchups, which the players say is palpable on the field.
Over the weekend, for example, Clarke said there was more controversy over questionable umpiring calls than usual.
“Our coach [Bill Walkenbach], who’s generally a mild-mannered guy who won’t really get in the faces of a lot of umpires, was really on it this weekend in terms of when there were big plays,” Clarke said. “He was the first one to be really fired up about that.”
Clarke said he personally doesn’t approach the games any differently, despite their importance.
“It’s just kind of like another game for me; I mean you still [have to] go out there and compete and play as hard as you can,” he said.
Still, he understands that crossing Sixth Street adds an extra element of intensity.
“For some guys, I guess it’s a little bit of an adjustment ‘cause of the added pressure of playing a team that really, really wants to beat you,” Clarke said. “Regardless of what the score is, there’s constant pressure and no one really loses energy in those games, so adjusting to that might be something that’s uncommon for some people.”