The tenth-ranked Pomona-Pitzer baseball team survived their toughest conference test of the season so far this past weekend, eventually prevailing over the CMS Stags in the three-game series by scores of 5-4 on Apr. 3 at P-P, and 13-6 and 12-8 on Apr. 4 at the CMS field. The Stags battled hard in each game, taking a late-inning lead in each game before falling to the Big Blue Machine’s offensive prowess.
The Sagehens, collectively batting .378 as a team this year, gave their fans several heart attacks throughout the weekend series. However, whenever P-P fell behind, they knew that they would get right back in the game.
“Even when we’re getting down early, we’ve got a lineup that can explode for tons of runs at any time,” said Drew Hedman PO ‘09. “I feel that we aren’t worried ‘if’ we’re going to come back, it’s always just a question of ‘when.’”
Catcher Mike Silva PI ’08 and pitcher James Brunswick PO ’10 were the heroes in the Sagehens’ 5-4 game one victory, saving their best efforts for extra innings. Although Brunswick loaded the bases in the tenth after giving up a single and two walks, he settled his command and struck out Blomberg CM ’09 and Max Rose CM ’10, two of the Stags’ most feared hitters.
Brunswick kept the game tied long enough to give Silva his shining moment of the series, a walk-off one-out home run in the bottom of the tenth. Even manager Frank Pericolosi, who has been managing the team for seven years, was amazed by Silva’s clutch hit.
“Walk-off home runs are always a surprise,” said Pericolosi. “I have only seen two in my seven years at Pomona-Pitzer.”
Although Sagehens’ ace David Colvin PO ’11 threw eight effective innings, letting up only three earned runs, all of which came in the seventh inning, his CMS counterpart, Jeff Postetter CM ’12 was just a little better. Despite entering the game with an ERA above six, Postetter stymied the Sagehens’ hitters through seven innings, giving up only two runs and leaving the game with a 4-2 lead.
“[Postetter] found his rhythm,” said Stags manager Randy Town. “We were very proud of his composure out there and know he has the stuff to compete.”
However, the Stags’ lack of depth in their bullpen was the team’s undoing. With Postetter gone, the Hens jumped on reliever Alex Sunderland CM ’11 in the eighth. Hedman came through for the team, launching a two-run shot with Kang on first to tie the game. The home run was his first of his two on the weekend.
“I’m more focused on just hitting the ball where it’s pitched and not doing too much,” Hedman said of his performance. “[I’m] just trying to keep it simple: ‘see ball, hit ball.’”
The Stags’ bullpen also let a late-game lead slip away on Saturday’s meetings. Rose, CMS’s starter in the second game of the series, was tremendous, giving up only two runs in total through six innings, as the Sagehens couldn’t capitalize with runners on base.
“Max did a real good job of mixing up pitches and keeping us off balance,” said Hedman.
The Stags, on the other hand, made most of their hits count, riding home runs by Rose and Travis Nishioka CM ’10 to take a 5-1 lead. However, Rose had to be pulled after throwing close to 110 pitches and giving up a lead-off double to Brandon Huerta PI ‘09, and once Stephanos Stroop CM ‘10 took the hill, the Sagehens began feasting.
Stroop walked James Kang PI ’10, the first batter he faced, to put Kang and Huerta at first and second. Next up was Hedman, and in unsurprising fashion for him this year, he ripped an opposite-field home run to get the Sagehens within one. Zach Mandleblatt PO ’09 followed that with a double, forcing Town to take Stroop out of the game. Kyle Shipley CM ’12 came in to try to extinguish the offensive fire, but instead got nervous and walked the next two batters to load the bases for James Campbell PO ’12, the team’s nine-hole hitter.
With the team down by one run and the Sagehens’ fans anticipating some baseball magic, Campbell did not disappoint. With Shipley needing to avoid a third walk and bring in the tying run, he had to groove a strike to Campbell, who ripped a grand slam to left field, giving the Sagehens the 8-5 lead and bringing the visiting fans to their feet.
“That home run was a once in a lifetime type thing,” said Campbell. “The pitcher got down early in the count, so I knew I would get at least one pitch to hit hard.”
The Sagehens tacked on a few more insurance runs in the inning, leaving the inning with an 11-5 lead. Although the Stags answered with a run of their own in the bottom of the seventh, the damage was done, as Leo Rosetti PO ’12 came in for 2-2/3 relief innings to help the Sagehens end the game with a 13-6 win.
The difference in the teams’ bullpens was an even greater factor in the third and final game of the series. Mandleblatt got the call to start for the Hens, but a sore arm reduced his effectiveness and control as the Stags jumped on him early, scoring eight runs in the first two innings.
“He did not throw a lot of strikes, got behind in the count, and walked guys or threw pitches up in the strike zone that were hit,” said Pericolosi.
The Sagehen relievers came in to limit the damage the rest of the game. Devin Matthews PO ’11 was particularly strong, coming in after Mandleblatt and holding the Stags to zero runs and only three hits in 4-1/3 innings of work.
With the Stags taking an 8-1 lead through two, the Sagehens needed to fight back. At first, it seemed like the Hens were doomed to lose their first conference game, as they grounded into a double play in each inning from the second to the sixth. However, they worked the pitch count well enough to chase David Ulrich CM ’12, who let up only three earned runs through six but still walked five Sagehen batters.
As Town reluctantly went to the pen, the Sagehens were ready to start hitting, despite being down 8-4 and forced to put together another comeback win.
“We often talk about being ready for every situation,” said Pericolosi. “Up big, down big, up late in the game, down late in the game.” Instead of relying on home runs to get back the lead, the Sagehens instead cobbled together nine hits in the seventh, scoring eight runs to turn an 8-4 deficit into a 12-8 victory. Everyone in the starting lineup collected at least one RBI with Kang leading the way by hitting 3-4 with a double, a walk, and two RBIs.
Despite getting swept in the series, Town was still proud of the way his team hung with the tough Sagehen squad.
“The guys worked hard and competed but just came up short in getting a ‘W,’” said Town.
Town’s counterpart was also unsurprisingly pleased with the team’s relentless drive to win, despite having to claw back in each game of the series.
“We are a competitive group and we always expect that type of competitive effort,” said Pericolosi.
Up next for the undefeated Sagehens is next weekend’s series against Whittier, followed by two tough series against ranked Chapman and Cal Lutheran that should be a good indicator of their potential postseason performance. The Stags will get a chance to rebound from the emotionally draining weekend as their next opponents are cellar-dwelling Occidental.