Behold the power of youth.
The Pomona-Pitzer baseball team normally relies on its upperclassmen to come through in the clutch. Players like Zach Mandelblatt PO ’09, Mike Silva PI ’08, Brandon Huerta PI ’09, and of course, D-III triple-crown candidate Drew Hedman PO ’09 have all given the Sagehens the offensive firepower to ascend to the top of the national D-III baseball scene.
But this week, Leo Rosetti PO ‘12 and Kyle Pokorny PO ‘12 made the difference in the Sagehens’ three-game sweep of regional powerhouse Chapman.
Thanks in part to the performance of these first-year students in the tough series, the Sagehens received the recognition of achieving a No. 1 ranking in this week’s D-III coaches poll. They also sit at number three in the media poll, receiving seven out of 25 first-place votes.
On Saturday morning, P-P rallied around Rosetti, who took over pitching duties from a struggling Mandelblatt and threw 4.1 innings of solid relief, giving up just two earned runs. In the afternoon, Kyle Pokorny picked up his third career RBI by walking to drive in the game-winning run.
The sweep did not come easily for the Sagehens. In Friday’s first game, David Colvin PI ’11 was locked in a pitcher’s duel with Chapman starter Jordan Sigman. It was not a good day to be a hitter—both starters made opposing hitters look anemic. Aside from a throwing error by the Chapman shortstop that handed the Sagehens two runs on a silver platter, both teams played impeccable defense. Nevertheless, Mandelblatt and Kang came through with crucial RBI singles to pick up the P-P offense. In the end, Colvin gave up just two runs over nine innings while Sigman surrendered four, and that was all she wrote.
If you took the first game of the P-P/Chapman series and turned it on its head, you would get the second game. Instead of displaying dominant starting pitching, the Panthers’ starter lasted 3.1 innings and gave up nine runs on 11 hits. P-P’s own starter, Mandelblatt, fared even worse—he was yanked with two outs in the second inning after letting up eight runs on ten hits (in his defense, only five of those runs were earned). It was at this point that Rosetti came in.
“We’ve been using him [Rosetti] as a reliever all year,” said coach Frank Pericolosi. “He’s definitely one of our guys we can go to in a tight spot.”
Rosetti put out the fire and stayed on for four more innings. When he entered the game, the Sagehens were down 8-0; when he left, they were winning 17-10.
The second game was different from the first in other respects, too. Instead of hitting feebly, P-P and Chapman combined for a comical 30 runs on 37 hits. There were seven home runs in the game, including a grand slam by Teddy Bingham PO ’11. But the Sagehens had the lion’s share of the offense on display Saturday morning—they won by a final score of 18-12.
Call it the Goldilocks series. The first game had too much defense. The second game had too much offense. The third game was just right, and for all 147 fans (true stat) in attendance, it was a nail-biter. The Sagehens and Panthers went back and forth all game, right down until the final out.
Kang started things off for P-P in the first inning by cranking a double to left that scored Huerta. Chapman came back with three runs in the third inning, but the Sagehens answered immediately with back-to-back homers from Silva and James Campbell PO ’12. After Chapman quietly crept out to a 5-3 lead, the P-P bats exploded for six runs on seven hits in the seventh inning. Five of the seven hits were consecutive singles. The bases were masquerading as a merry-go-round for Sagehen runners.
“We always expect an inning where we explode for runs,” said Pericolosi. “We got one on Saturday.”
With the score steady at 9-5 heading into the top of the ninth, the game looked relatively secure. But the roller-coaster ride had just begun. After a double, two walks, and a pitching change, the bases were loaded. Kang, P-P’s star closer, was staring down Chapman’s No. 3 hitter John Semel.
“Kang is the guy that we want pitching in that situation,” said Pericolosi. “Unfortunately, the guy who was at the plate, he hits good pitches, bad pitches, basically anything you throw at him.”
Semel crushed a grand-slam home run to centerfield, tying the game with one swing of the bat.
“He’s one of the best hitters we’ve faced,” said Pericolosi. “But I wasn’t worried when he tied it up, even though there was still only one out. I knew we still had our chance to hit.”
Going into the final inning, the Sagehens needed a run to eke out a victory. After just three batters, there were two outs and one man on—Huerta had drawn a walk. Hedman stepped up to the plate and ripped a single to right field. Huerta hustled over to third, and the Chapman manager decided he had seen enough and ordered a pitching change. Ben Levitt came to the mound and faced hitter Mandelblatt.
“We pretended like Nick [Frederick] was going to hit, because we didn’t want them to walk Mandel,” said Pokorny afterwards. “He got in the on-deck circle and everything, but they walked him anyway.”
That brought Pokorny up with bases loaded and two outs. You could almost hear the soundtrack from The Natural playing in the background.
“His first pitch was a good strike,” said Pokorny. “But I didn’t swing because I wanted to see how he was throwing. Then he threw a couple of balls and came back with a strike, so it was a 2-2 count.”
Pokorny added: “The next pitch, I fouled off a splitter. Then he threw a fastball, and I fouled that off too. Then he threw another ball. On the last pitch, he had been working me outside the entire time and he did that again, but he missed by a couple inches.”
The crowd was hushed. Even though Pokorny knew the pitch was outside, the umpire hesitated before making a call.
“There was a second of anxiety,” said Pokorny. “But for the crowd, not for me. I knew it was gonna be a walk.”
“The ball hit the catcher’s glove, and the whole crowd was watching the umpire and waiting,” said Pericolosi.
The umpire pointed to first base, and the P-P dugout and fans erupted in celebration.
“Thankfully, the umpire stayed true to the strike zone,” said Pokorny with a laugh.
In the eyes of college baseball coaches across the nation, last weekend’s victories carried weight. But the Chapman series was trivial compared to this week’s three-game series against Cal Lutheran. Aside from being an away series (two of the three games are away), Cal Lu is second in the SCIAC standings. Whoever wins this series will most likely be crowned league champions.
The series has further implications for the national rankings. With a sweep against 14th-ranked Cal Lu, the Sagehens seem to be assured the No. 1 spot, along with all of the respect (and fear) from other teams that comes with along with it.
“It’s huge,” said Pericolosi. “We play one game at a time, but we want to win the SCIAC championship.”
The home game against Cal Lu is Friday at 3 p.m.