Glendale, Ariz.— Over a four game series with #23 Arizona Christian (18-12, 7-7 GSAC), #7 Westmont (26-2, 15-1) outscored the Firestorm 39-13. Westmont ensured their offensive outburst did not go to waste this weekend, as they finished off a four-game sweep of Arizona Christian with a double-header on Saturday.
In game one, Bradley Heacock tossed seven quality innings and the club spotted him 16 runs in an eventual 16-4 victory. Then, in game two, Westmont jumped out a 7-0 lead before things got close in the late innings. Eventually, Westmont’s bullpen put the finishing touches on a 10-7 win.
“I am very proud of our guys,” said Westmont head coach Robert Ruiz. “We just came off two of our longest road trips of the season, and going into these, we set some goals around mental toughness. We really accomplished those goals this weekend.
“Today we came out with great energy and sustained a pretty consistent offensive attack. We really stayed locked in all weekend long, and that’s a huge series sweep over a really Arizona Christian team.”
In game one, Westmont immediately retained momentum from the previous day with a two-run first inning. Brady Renck singled up the middle, Simon Reid was plunked by a pitch, and Thomas Rudinsky worked a walk to load the bases with one out.
Josh Rego and Parker O’Neil cashed in for the club with back-to-back run-scoring singles, giving the club an early 2-0 lead.
After a scoreless inning from Heacock, Warriors were quick to keep their foot down, adding another on a two-out single from Simon Reid for their third run of the morning. Following the single, Westmont knocked out ACU starter Chase Martinez after only one and two-thirds innings.
Eli Elliot, the first reliever out of the Firestorm bullpen, experienced the same ambush as Martinez. Rudinsky, the first batter Elliot faced, greeted the new arm by smoking a line drive to the wall in left-center field, bringing home another pair for the Warriors, and making it 5-0 in the second inning.
In the bottom of the second and bottom of the third, Arizona Christian put a run on the board, first via a base hit and second by courtesy of a groundout. The 5-2 deficit was as close as the Firestorm would get in game one.
Rudinsky continued his big day in the top of the fourth when he banged a double to the gap in left center, scoring Robbie Haw. Then, in the fifth, Westmont put the game away for good. First, Justin Rodriguez came home on a wild pitch. Then, with two outs and two men in scoring position, Reid snuck a single through the right side to bring both men home.
Following Reid’s single, the Warrior led 9-2 at the end of five. By the end of the seventh, the club led 12-2 thanks to a few defensive miscues by the Firestorm.
Heacock moved to a perfect 6-0 after providing yet another quality start. On Saturday, the sophomore right-hander went a career-high seven innings, allowed one earned run, struck out three, and induced nine groundouts. Heacock lowered his ERA to 2.85 in the winning effort.
“Heacock was great, and he had more left in the tank when we turned it over to the bullpen,” offered Ruiz. “He stayed locked in and pitched really well early, setting the tone for that game. He handled himself like an upper-classman, when he’s just a second year guy.”
Sam Kim took over for Heacock in the eighth and promptly retired the side in order. Then, in the top of the ninth, Westmont put an exclamation point on the series-clincher with a four spot. The first run came home on a passed ball, the second and third came home on a single from Haw, and the fourth came home on a double by Renck.
The Firestorm added a pair in the ninth, but Kim eventually got the 27th out to secure the 16-4 win.
In game two, the Warriors came out with what looked to be an early knockout punch before things got dicey. In the first inning, Reid opened up the scoring with double to right, bringing in Renck. Then, in the second inning, Westmont put up a six spot.
Ryan Desaegher started the rally with a run-scoring double to left, bringing in Finn Snyder. Then, after Westmont scored a run on a balk, Reid delivered again with a two-run single. Capping off the rally was Rudinsky, who continued his best day of 2022 with a monster two-run blast to straight-away left.
“Rudy has been coming along the last couple weeks,” noted Ruiz. “He’s remained in the middle of our lineup because we think he’s a proven, high-level hitter. As he continues to get better, we will get better.”
Going into the bottom of the fourth, Westmont led 7-0, and Chad Stoner had surrendered just one hit. However, the fourth proved to be one of Westmont’s most forgettable innings of the season. Ultimately, Stoner allowed five hits and five runs in the inning, with three of the runs being unearned.
Westmont had a chance to end the inning with two outs and a pair on, but a throwing error from Renck prolonged the affair and allowed ACU the opportunity to hang a high five in the fourth. With two outs in the inning, Ruiz asked Gabe Arteaga to get him out of a jam for the second time in as many days.
Arteaga answered the call, striking out the first batter he saw to strand runners at the corners. Going into the late innings, Westmont led 7-5.
After Arteaga retired the side in order in the bottom of the fifth, the Warriors came up with a huge insurance run in the sixth. With one out, Desaegher off of third, and Renck off of first, Renck left on first move with a left-hander on the mound.
The pitcher threw over to first after seeing Renck take off, but Renck, in a heads up moment, froze between first and second. Then, as the infield pursued Renck in a rundown, Desaegher was able to dart home ahead of the throw from the shortstop.
The run loomed large when the Firestorm were able to generate a run off of Arteaga in the bottom half of the inning. In an 8-6 game, with two outs and a runner on third, Ruiz went to his ace reliever, Carlos Moreno, with four outs to go.
The first pitch Moreno threw was swatted into left field for a base hit, making it a one-run game. With no further damage done, Moreno got the final out of the inning to send the game to seventh with Westmont leading 8-7.
Rudinsky led off the seventh with a huge walk, putting a much-needed ninth run aboard. Then, pinch runner Dusty Schraeder was immediately given the chance to cut loose. With Schraeder off of first, Rego hit a sinking line drive to left field that not only dropped in front of the corner outfielder, but skipped by him.
The ball rolled all the way to the wall, allowing Schraeder to scurry home, and an aggressive Rego to reach third when he slid around a tag. Two outs later, Rego remained at third. With the final clutch hit of the day, Snyder put even more distance between Westmont and ACU when he snuck a single up the middle.
Moreno went back to the mound with a 10-7 lead, and three outs later, he earned his second save of the weekend to seal the sweep.
“We only used four relievers this weekend,” noted Ruiz. “To get on the road and play a team capable of high run production, it says a lot about our pitching and our defense as a whole. It also says a lot about Carlos and Gabe and how important they’ve been for us.
“Those two guys locked down two huge games against a really good team. They handled some adversity and really showcased the mental toughness we’re striving for. Those guys came in with intensity like it was game seven, and our team needed that.”
Next weekend, all eyes will be on Russ Carr Field when first-place Westmont hosts #16 Hope International (23-5, 11-1 GSAC) in Santa Barbara. The Royals, who will come into next weekend two games back of first, eliminated Westmont in the NAIA Opening Round last May in Santa Barbara.
“I think the GSAC is as strong as it’s been in a long time,” said Ruiz, looking forward to next weekend. “Hope has a fantastic record and they’re a great team. We have to get home and recover, then get to game planning on Monday. We know Hope is going to be one of the biggest challenges we’ve seen this season.
“Every week there’s a new obstacle to overcome. We’re going to have to be locked in and have a great plan to beat those guys. I have nothing but confidence in our guys’ ability to show up ready to work on Monday.”