The Pomona-Pitzer baseball team (6-12, 4-8 SCIAC) squared off against Whittier College (11-5, 9-0 SCIAC) for a three-game series on Friday, March 7 and Saturday, March 8, losing all three games to the Poets.
The Sagehens also faced off against the No. 6 team in the country, Ithaca College, for a non-conference game on Monday, March 10. In that game, the Sagehens rode an eight-run first inning to an important 15-7 victory.
The Poets, who are undefeated in the the SCIAC, posed tough competition for the Sagehens. Nevertheless, P-P was riding a wave of energy from their series win against the University of Redlands, and were confident they could put up a fight.
The series began at Whittier with a Friday afternoon game. The Sagehens came out of the gates at full force, as E.J. Lopez PZ ’15 hit a two-run RBI single in the first inning to give P-P an early lead. Whittier fought back in the second, bringing the score to 2-1, but Travis Bowers PO ’14 came through with a solo home run in the third inning, pushing P-P’s lead to 3-1.
Jake Bruml PO ’15 had a solid day on the mound, complementing P-P’s offensive success with defensive stability; in seven innings, Bruml kept the Whittier lineup to a mere two runs.
The score was 4-2 heading into the bottom of the eighth inning, and it looked like the Sagehens were poised to earn the victory. However, in a heartbreaking turn of events, the Poets came through with clutch hits to capitalize on Sagehen errors, scoring four runs in the bottom of the eighth. With the score at 6-4 in the top of the ninth, the Sagehens were unable to rally, leaving Whittier with a 6-4 win.
The loss was tough for the Sagehens, who played clean baseball for the first seven innings. Lopez explained that, although P-P started out strong, the nature of baseball is that small mistakes can make a big difference.
“The first game was one of the best games we’ve played all year,” Lopez said. “And in the eighth, there were a few little miscues. They weren’t even big mistakes, but a few miscues that cost us the game. That’s the game, that’s baseball.”
According to head coach Frank Pericolosi, the loss shifted momentum for P-P.
“That was a tough way start to the weekend,” he said. “We thought we had that game, but you know, that’s baseball. Anything can happen.”
The momentum shift certainly had an impact, and Saturday did not turn out well for the Sagehens. They dropped both games to Whittier, 15-9 and 9-0, allowing for a three-game Poet sweep.
The weekend left a bitter taste for P-P, who headed into their day off on Sunday thinking about how to improve.
“Baseball is very mental,” Lopez explained. “Mistakes are made, and physical mistakes are made all the time. It’s important to be able to turn the page, to flush the past, and make the next play.”
Lopez said that the Sagehens spent Sunday mentally preparing for their next game.
“We knew we had to play [on Monday],” he said. “We had [Sunday] off, so we had a day to recoup. To look yourself in the mirror and say look, ‘Do we want to lose four games in a weekend, or do we want to come beat a top-ranked team?’”
Bruml also stressed the importance of taking advantage of the short time between games to change momentum.
“The nicest thing about baseball, or at least with the schedule we have, is that you’re almost always playing the next day,” Bruml said. “We never have more than three days off, so [Ithaca] was a nice chance for us to get back on the horse. We knew we had a disappointing weekend against Whittier. No one was happy, and we all know that we’re better than that. We wanted to come out and try to prove that, and play to what we are capable of.”
The Sagehens did just that, pulling off a 15-7 win over No. 6 Ithaca College. The Sagehens came out fired up, and had strong offensive success early on in the game. Tanner Nishioka PO ’17 began the first inning with a single and ended the inning with a grand slam, as P-P cruised its way to an 8-0 first inning lead.
Nishioka’s grand slam was a tangible manifestation of the team’s momentum change.
“It definitely sparked us,” Bruml said. “We’ve been down early and big in the past couple of games. To be in the complete opposite role—up big so early—was nice. It definitely re-energized everyone right from the get-go.”
Ithaca attempted to stage a third-inning comeback after a bases-loaded hit by pitch and two walks, but it was not enough to come back. The Sagehens clinched a 15-7 win, adding another tally to their win column.
Bruml said that the win was important in setting up the Sagehens for end-of-season success.
“We’re trending in the right direction,” Bruml said. “We want to be peaking starting this month and into April so that we can play in the SCIAC tournament and give ourselves a chance [for a NCAA bid]. This weekend was kind of tough, but today was definitely a big step in the right direction. We’ve been working hard in practice, and I think good things are going to come.”
The Sagehens are in a good position to turn the season around, especially with the return of third baseman Lopez. Lopez, who was out with a quadricep injury after P-P’s series against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, has made his way back into the lineup and should play a key role in Sagehen success.
“He’s a great player,” Pericolosi said. “When he’s healthy, he’s our best defensive player. He really plays a great third base, so he’s a really important part of our team. His teammates also voted him a captain as a junior; they have a lot of respect for him as a leader and a player on our team.”
Lopez said that his time out of the lineup allowed him to understand the team from a more holistic perspective. As a captain, he said, being on the bench helped him better understand how the team can function as a cohesive unit.
“It was interesting to be on the bench for a few series because it was a different perspective,” Lopez said. “I started my first two years, so sitting on the bench for a couple games was sort of eye-opening, seeing how the bench players and the field players interact and how the bench is very involved in the game and picking people up after every inning and saying, ‘Hey, look—you made an out that inning, but get it the next time.’”
“It’s a whole-team game,” he added. “It was important to take a step back from the team and view it as a whole instead of just viewing it as all these different parts.”
Bruml added that, outside of Lopez’s statistical accomplishments, he plays an important role in establishing team dynamic.
“Having him out on the field is just a calming presence,” Bruml said. “He always knows what the right thing to say is. He leads the younger guys, sets a tone overall in the dugout and makes sure things are done the right way. It’s great to have him back.”
P-P will take on Chapman University this weekend in a three-game series. The series begins on Friday, March 14, with a home game at 3 p.m. The Sagehens will then travel to Chapman to play a Saturday doubleheader with first pitches at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.