With a 20-7 record and 22 games remaining in the season, PLNU’s baseball team is inching its way to becoming PacWest conference champions.
Last season, the team ended with a 24-25 record.
Alumni and sixth year Head Coach Bill Schaefer said that last year was a building process.
“We lacked experience and strength in the past years and this season we have a much better mix,” Schaefer said. “We have older players at key positions, we have stronger players and we have younger players that are going up against a lot of older teams.”
Sophomore and starting pitcher, Eric Pierce, said the team has to improve.
“We’re happy with our record, but obviously with a 16-7 record we’ve lost seven games, so it’s not perfect,” Pierce said. “We’re not really satisfied that we’ve lost games that we shouldn’t have.”
The pitching staff currently has a four ERA—earned run average. Schaefer is very pleased with how the pitchers have performed this season so far as both starters and relief pitching have shown up and worked hard.
“Statistically, pitching doesn’t look as good as it’s actually been,” Schaefer said. “Our bullpen has been outstanding. In the last three or four innings of each game, we have a lot of confidence in the guys we put on the mound. Our starting pitchers are young but very talented and they’ve done very well this year.”
Over spring break, the baseball team competed against rival Azusa Pacific University. They lost the series, winning only one game. Junior starting catcher A.J. Derr played for PLNU when they beat APU eight times in just two years. He said their winning record over APU made this most recent series quite an upset.
“Azusa was a tough team. We went into that series expecting a huge challenge and obviously we got one,” Derr said. “We did our best. They’re a great team and our pitchers did really well. It just didn’t go our way.”
Despite the loss against APU, the team made a comeback to beat the No. 10 nationally ranked team, UCSD. PLNU was down five runs by the fifth inning. At that point, the team knew they needed to step it up.
“We got off on a rough patch in that game,” Derr said. “One of our guys brought us together in the dugout and gave us a little speech. From there on out we just battled back and it was a huge win for our team and for our program.”
In the sixth inning, the Sea Lions scored six runs to win the game.
“We got outplayed the first half of that ballgame but we out played them in the second half,” Schaefer said. “If you’re going to be at your best, you want to be at your best at the end of the game. That was a signature win for this team in a lot of ways.”
This six-run comeback has become a trend for the baseball team. When PLNU played Holy Names University, they made a six-point come back in the final inning to win the game. Similarly, in the series against APU, PLNU won the game by again, scoring six runs in the last inning.
The baseball team has competed against large universities such as Cal State San Bernardino and UCSD. Despite the size difference, PLNU has managed to hold its own. Pierce believes that being at a small schools gives the team an advantage.
“Being at a smaller school, we see each other so often it really builds that team chemistry,” said Pierce. “And later down the road, chemistry helps way more than almost talent does, so I really think we have that going for us.”
Even Schaefer knows the relationships among the players has truly helped the team’s success.
“From what I can see, they gel well together,” Schaefer said, “They hang out together a lot, on and off the field. They all have the same goal. They all want to win. In every team, there is going to be some dissatisfaction with playing time but this team doesn’t have a lot of that. They want to be at the top in the end so they fight for it at practice and they play for it on game days.”
The baseball team knows that the key to winning the conference title is stability.
“My hopes are to win a conference championship; that’s what we said our goal was in the fall and that’s what every team’s goal is,” Pierce said. “We believe we have the guys to do it, we have the pitching to do it, we have the defense and we have the hitting to do it. It’s just putting it all together consistently.”
Although the baseball team has started off strong, they still have half a season ahead of them. Schaefer knows the PLNU baseball team is ready and up for the challenge.
“I think this team is capable of winning a conference championship. We are three games behind the conference leader [Dixie State University],” Schaefer said. “This team wants it, this team is hungry for it and this team is capable of it.”
The PLNU baseball team’s next series is against Hawaii Hilo. They will play at home on both Friday, March 27, and Saturday March 28, at noon and 3 p.m.