Not much was expected from the Point Loma Nazarene University baseball program in 2022, according to the media projections. After an 11-21 finish in 2021, even the players felt the low expectations were fair heading into the new season, though they didn’t necessarily agree. Current minor leaguer for the Philadelphia Phillies, undrafted free agent third baseman and former PLNU standout Otto Kemp made it clear that last year’s squad was not paying any mind to the media.
“I think their projections were fair considering our record last year,” Kemp said during the season. “Needless to say, projections don’t mean a thing to us. Anything can happen in this game.”
Kemp and his teammates helped prove that mindset throughout the 2022 season, culminating in a school record 51 wins and a .836 winning percentage for an overall record of 51-10.
It can be easy to compare the statistics of the 2021 squad to the 2022 team and gawk, but in this case, numbers don’t tell the whole story. Returning pitcher Cole Hillier credited strong clubhouse culture and the tight-knit bond between the players as what separated them from the rest of the nation.
“It was such a close-knit group of guys, definitely the closest of any team I have ever been a part of, and we knew we all had each other’s backs no matter the situation,” Hillier said.
Hillier made it clear that every player on the team bought into the goals and expectations put in place by now PacWest Coach of the Year Justin James, setting a precedent for the teams to come.
The mantra the Sea Lions lived by throughout the year was simple, yet crucial to their cohesiveness as a unit.
Glory. Zeal. Make it better.
Hillier explained that by playing to glorify God, playing with energy and enthusiasm, and working tirelessly to make each and every member of the team better every day are what drove the clubhouse culture and ultimately separated PLNU from the field.
This culture helped the Sea Lions improve their team ERA from 6.32 in 2021 to 3.23 in the 2022 season, a number good for second in the nation. For reference, there are approximately 274 Division II NCAA baseball teams in the U.S.
Commanding pitching drove the team’s success, with multiple players crediting their overall success to the opponent’s inability to score on them. Ace pitcher Baxter Halligan finished with a 2.07 ERA (11th in the nation), number two in the rotation Dylan Miller made national headlines with an 11-strikeout no-hitter and, the final man in the starting rotation, Jack Gonzales, had a record of 10-2 with 107 strikeouts in 95.2 innings pitched.
Looking deeper than the starting rotation, relief pitcher Zachary Veen finished with an ERA of 1.29 and a strikeout to walk ratio of 14.75:1. Veen only allowed an earned run in 4 of his 26 appearances and struck out 52 batters before issuing his first walk of the year. Veen was selected by the Minnesota Twins in the 18th round of the MLB Draft, 534th overall. In rookie ball for the Twins this season, Veen has a 3.00 ERA and a 0.67 WHIP with 4 strikeouts in 3.0 innings pitched so far.
PLNU’s season of dominance included a record of 13-2 versus rivals Biola University and Azusa Pacific University, outsourcing them 118-48 in those games. This stretch of dominance included a series victory over APU in the NCAA Super Regionals, ending the Cougars’ season.
The Sea Lions earned their first berth to the DII College World Series in school history as the No. 2 seed, however, the playoff format put the Sea Lions at a disadvantage once they advanced to the coveted National Championship series.
On Friday, June 10, the Sea Lions knocked off Rollins in a 2-0 nailbiter to advance to the championship series. However, because of the format, PLNU was forced to play the first game of the national championship that same afternoon. If the Sea Lions lost this game, North Greenville would be named DII Champs. If the Sea Lions won, they would need to beat North Greenville again the following day to secure the trophy.
In order to win the title, the Sea Lions needed to win three games in two days against two of the best teams in the nation. Not to mention the fact that North Greenville had not played on June 10, meaning they only had to win one game in one day to secure the title.
The Sea Lions fell 5-3 in the first game of the championship series, making them the national runner-up in DII baseball, the best finish in school history. The players and coaches associated with this team will go down in PLNU history. The greatest team and, potentially, the greatest pitching staff this campus has ever seen.
Thank you 2022 PLNU Baseball!
Written By: Cade Cavin