PLNU Baseball Bests Top 15 CSU Monterey Bay On the Road, Returning to Carroll B. Land

Outfielder Esai Santos in the Feb. 16 game against UCCS. Photo Courtesy of PLNU Smugmug.

The 21st-ranked Point Loma Nazarene University (PLNU) Sea Lion baseball team defeated the 14th-ranked California State University, Monterey Bay Sea Otters 11-0 on the road on Saturday, Feb. 10, taking three games out of the four-game series. The Sea Lions also split a two-game set with now 32nd-ranked Northwest Nazarene University (the final two games were canceled due to weather). With the performances, the Sea Lions jumped 13 spots in the DII Top 25 to No. 8. 

After dropping game two of the four-game series 13-8 against the Otters — giving up 10 runs in the first three innings — PLNU rallied to win the next two contests by a combined score of 17-1. Head coach Justin James said that the key to the series was toughness and focus throughout the innings where the pitches just weren’t missing the opponents’ bats. 

“In a series versus one of the best teams in the region and on the road, you have to respond well to adversity and win pitches,” James said. “We worked on this all offseason through various avenues and the guys made big-time pitches when we needed it. Our offense stayed disciplined and made their pitchers grind through their outings.”

This year’s players have been vagabonds of sorts with each of the first four series being played away from Carroll B. Land Stadium due to the sinkhole caused by the recent storms. Two series originally scheduled at home (vs. University of Colorado, Colorado Springs and Northwest Nazarene University) were moved to nearby La Jolla, University of San Diego and San Diego Mesa Community College. 

James said that he feels the team is largely unaffected by the swift and unexpected change in plans, citing the team’s mentality of “anytime, anywhere” as a reason for the stability. 

“It’s been challenging to get our normal practices in, but my coaching staff has done an unbelievable job preparing our guys and making everything seem normal,” James said. 

With field maintenance and repair finishing up in the next few weeks, the Sea Lions are hopeful they will be back in America’s Most Scenic Ballpark soon. 

“We’re hoping to be back for the Westmont series March 1 weekend,” James said. 

Senior pitcher and outfielder Cole Colleran emphasized the support the team has felt from its fans despite the temporary relocation, stating how impressed he has been with the fan turnout thus far. 

“We have a lot of parents, students and fans still coming out which has been really awesome,” Colleran said. “That definitely helps in making these games still feel like home games.” 

Despite the added challenge of the team’s home-field mishap, the Sea Lions offense has still been able to find their groove and produce. 

The 2-hole hitter has traditionally been a contact bat to move the leadoff hitter into scoring position. The idea has always been to avoid the double play and get on base, but recently, there has been a movement away from this sentiment. Sports Illustrated Kansas City Royals reporter Sterling Holmes explained why this is the case in an article published on April 5, 2022. 

“The old-school mindset of getting a guy on, getting him over and getting him in works when you want to score a run still provides value. For long-term success over a full game and full season, though, teams should want the best batter batting second,” Holmes wrote. “With that spot getting additional at-bats, as well as still getting RBI opportunities, it makes sense. It’s why guys like Mike Trout typically bat second.” 

PLNU’s No. 2 hitter, Cal State Dominguez Hills transfer and OF Eric Smelko, has been an example of this at the DII level. Hitting second for the now top-10 Sea Lions, Smelko has slashed .370/.485/.630 with a 1.115 OPS. That’s 17 total bases in 27 at-bats. 

James praised Smelko’s production throughout his college career, emphasizing his bat-to-ball skills. 

“Eric Smelko is a spark plug for us and has been a great player his whole career. He’s very good at controlling the strike zone and makes hard contact consistently,” James said. “He’s a tough out and makes every pitcher work extremely hard.” 

As PLNU prepares for its upcoming series at Fresno Pacific University, the team will look to continue to lean on an experienced pitching staff with a variety of guys getting quality innings. 

“Early in the season, starters’ pitch counts are typically limited. It’s good to get a lot of guys innings early, so it gets them comfortable and see who you can trust,” James said. “We have good SPs and guys making big strides in the pen which is exciting.”