Pomona senior James Brunswick offered only a reticent smirk and grunt in response to my entreaties urging him to share the secret behind his rippling forearms. Regardless of sexual appeal, opposing teams are forced to scout the righty’s arm in more ways than one. A true catcher with one of the best defensive arms in the conference, Brunswick has also filled one of the team’s primary needs over the past two seasons as a pitcher. Posting a 4-2 record and 3.90 ERA during his 2010 campaign, Brunswick comes second on the team in innings pitched only to reigning ace David Colvin PI ‘11. Last Saturday, Brunswick’s forearms weren’t enough to inspire the Sagehens’ (24-7, 18-3 SCIAC) bats as they lost both games of a doubleheader at home against the Redlands Bulldogs (26-4, 18-3), a team they had beaten 9-2 the day before and will play once more this season.
The first game Saturday featured excellent defense by both teams and a Redlands pitcher who seemed to throw more checks to first base than pitches toward home. Brunswick threw five strong innings until, with the Bulldogs leading 2-1, a Redlands player closed his eyes and happened to swat a high fastball into the street behind left-center field. From there, bad luck and near misses widened the lead. The next Bulldog batter hit a borderline double into right-center, and a strong throw from sophomore center-fielder Travis Rooke-Ley PO—that may well have beaten the batter to second—hit the lip of the outfield and took a high, slow bounce, leaving a runner in scoring position with one out. Then a hard ground ball down the third base line grazed the glove of diving Pomona junior Teddy Bingham before leaking down the line for another double and an RBI. Down 4-1, the Sagehens needed some offensive energy and managed one run in the bottom of the 6th on a Kyle Pokorny PO ’12 single, but they stranded two runners and wouldn’t get any closer, eventually losing 6-2.
The afternoon game featured more anemic offense from the usually-potent Sagehen lineup, which managed just 6 hits in a 7-1 loss. Redlands capitalized on three hits and the first of three Sagehen errors that afternoon to surge to a 4-0 lead in the first inning that they would never surrender. Tensions were building between the teams after a collision between Bulldog Nate Carlson and Brunswick at the plate resulted in Carlson’s ejection from the game after he was called out. Pomona-Pitzer coach Frank Pericolosi was also displeased with the Redlands bench, who had been giving not-so-subtle hints to the hitters about where the catcher was setting up during the pitch, revealing the pitcher’s intended placement. Such conduct is not formally against the rules, but is frowned upon in a sport that is typically characterized by class and professionalism. The only offensive highlight for the home team was a Brunswick double followed by a Rooke-Ley RBI single that gave the Sagehens their only run in the bottom of the third inning.
“They did everything better than us; they pitched better, hit better, they didn’t make any errors,” Brunswick admitted after the two disheartening losses on an otherwise pleasant afternoon in Claremont. “We didn’t play well enough to be league champions, but you’ve also got to tip your cap to Redlands for showing up and playing 18 hard innings, and they deserved both wins, but I do believe we are a good enough team to be league champions and there is not a team or a pitcher in this league that we can’t beat.”
For the first time in SCIAC history, the Sagehens will have the chance to even the season series with Redlands and show why they were recently ranked fifth in the nation in Division-III baseball. SCIAC has amended its schedule this year to include 28 conference games per team rather than 21, meaning that after the usual three-game series with each SCIAC team, the Sagehens will play one more game against every team in round robin format. The Sagehens’ remaining schedule is favorable in that its three toughest opponents (CMS, Cal Lutheran, and Redlands) are spread out over each of the next three weekends, allowing wunderkind Colvin to pitch each critical game on plenty of rest. If Pomona-Pitzer and Redlands fare equally well against conference foes over the remainder of the season, the conference title will come down to their Apr. 24 showdown at Redlands.
Some fans held tempered expectations after the loss of starting pitchers Zach Mandelblatt and Tom Church as well as SCIAC powerhouse Drew Hedman (who was named Red Sox prospect of the night on Saturday after going 3-4 with two doubles and an RBI for the High-A Salem Red Sox). But not the Sagehen players.
“We are extremely focused and confident going into the last leg of the season that we can take home the SCIAC title,” asserted Brunswick.
Come support your nationally-ranked Sagehens Apr. 16 against Whittier and Apr. 17 at CMS as they open round robin play and begin their quest for the conference crown.