Sports

PLNU Baseball Gears Up For A Second Straight PacWest Title Defense

PLNU Baseball team. Photo courtesy of PLNU Sea Lions Smug Mug.

By: Cade Cavin

Sporting an 87-26 record over the past two seasons, Point Loma Nazarene University’s baseball team will look to continue its streak of seven straight full seasons (no full season in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic) of 30-plus wins with a strong 2024 campaign. 

The Sea Lions will also be defending their PacWest title for the second straight season, but head coach Justin James said that expectations are never altered based on past success. 

“I think expectations never change based on the previous years,” said James. “It’s certain standards that are in place to ensure you have the best chance of winning championships. Our goal is to go into every training session, game and season with the same intensity and expecting to win.” 

That mindset of intensity and confidence helped the Sea Lions to a national championship appearance in 2022, a conference title in 2023 and a spot in the preseason top 25 for 2024. PLNU is currently ranked No. 21 in all of Division II and No. 3 in the West region. 

As in many other NCAA sports, the transfer portal has become a crucial part of a baseball team’s offseason with the addition of transfer players at the forefront of team improvement. James said that the team added three players by way of the portal this offseason, all from within the state of California. 

“We brought in Austyn Coleman from CSU San Bernardino, Esai Santos from Holy Names, Eric Smelko from CSU Dominguez,” James said. “All should be heavily relied on if we want to go where we want to.” 

But with the gains that can be made through the transfer portal, there are also losses. The Sea Lions lost the consistent and powerful bat of first baseman Jakob Christian, who finished second in the nation with 20 home runs last year. He also led the team with a .901 slugging percentage, also good for second in DII. 

Christian’s recent transfer to nearby DI University of San Diego leaves large shoes to fill, but James believes that this team’s depth and plethora of experienced players will lend itself to a much more balanced team. James said pitcher Dylan Miller, infielder Scott Anderson, outfielder Jack Malone, catcher Jake Entriken and two-way player Cole Colleran are all expected to pick up where they left off a year ago. 

Entriken and Anderson were named to the Preseason West Region team, posting a 1.045 and 1.113 OPS, respectively. Santos was also named to the Preseason West Region team after posting a .374 batting average and a .518 OBP in 2023 with the Holy Names Hawks. 

“I see 2024 being a year where all three phases of the game are adjustable and we have more depth,” said James. “I think our offense at the moment looks very talented, and we typically play very good defense. The pitch is older guys, and we return all of our SPs from last year which will definitely help in eating up innings.”

However, the 2024 squad will likely be the first PLNU baseball team since 1973 not to play its first home game at Carroll B. Land Stadium — America’s Most Scenic Ballpark. Heavy rain and flooding in San Diego over the weekend of Jan. 20-21 caused a sinkhole to form along the outfield fence line of the famed stadium, meaning the team is expected to play its home games elsewhere for the time being. 

“Looks like the first 3 series will now have to be adjusted and can’t be played at home,” said James. “We are working around the clock to get back playing here as soon as possible.”

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