Westmont Baseball, ranked sixth in the NAIA, had to come from behind twice on Senior Day to sweep a doubleheader with Academy of Art (11-31) to complete a three-game sweep and improve to 39-6.
The Warriors put up four runs in the bottom of the ninth in an 8-7 victory in game one. Then in the seven-inning second game, Westmont scored five in the bottom of the sixth to post a 5-3 win.
“It is cool to close out a Senior Day with all of our seniors getting to contribute in some way this weekend and for our team to pull together, rally from behind, and take two victories late in those games,” said Westmont head coach Robert Ruiz. “We had contributions across the board from this whole team this weekend.
“We probably faced three of the better starting pitchers we have seen all year,” said Ruiz of the Knights. “We knew we were going to be in tight ballgames and we were.
“Our guys just stayed in the fight, stayed resilient, put together good at bats when we needed it and got to the bullpen. It unraveled (for Academy of Art) from there. I am proud of the way they hung in there in that game.”
Josh Rego initiated the scoring on a lead-off home run to left field in the bottom of the second, giving Westmont an early 1-0 lead.
The Knights, however, evened the score in the top of the fourth on a sacrifice fly by Liam Rizzo that scored Ty Conrad from third. Conrad had previously reached on a lead-off single to left and took third on a single by Travis Turney.
Academy of Arts took a 3-1 lead in the top of the fifth. Dominic Ruggiero drove in the first run with a single up the middle and Conrad executed a squeeze bunt to score the second.
It did not take long for the Warriors to match the Knights’ offensive production in the fifth. Robbie Haw led off with a single up the middle before Brady Renck delivered his 13th home run of the year, this one an opposite field blast to left.
When Renck crossed the plate, he notched his 56th run of the season, tying the Westmont record previously set by Alex Bush in 2015.
There would be no more scoring by either team until after the seventh-inning stretch. Simon Reid sent a shot down the right field line that bounced off the fence for a lead-off double. One out later, Rego singled to center, moving Reid to third. Reid then scored on a wild pitch.
The Knights responded, however, with a pair of two-run bombs in the top of the eighth. Vincent Lontz powered a no-doubter over the right field fence to give the Knights a 5-4 lead. Then Emil Jellinek made it 7-4 with a shot to left.
Westmont was down to its final three outs and down by three runs when Reid led off the bottom of the ninth with a home run to right – his third hit of the game and his ninth home run of the season. After Thomas Rudinsky reached on an error, Rego produced his third hit of the game – a single to left. Rudinsky advanced to second on the play. Both runners then moved up one base on a wild pitch before Jeremiah Canada was walked to load the bases with no outs.
That brought up Kahi Rodrigues who hit a dribbler to the left of the mound. Dallen Turner, who had entered the game in relief prior to Canada’s plate appearance, fielded the ball and attempted to throw out Rudinsky at the plate. However, Turner overthrew Knights’ catcher Ryan Gamboa allowing not only Rudinsky to score, but Rego as well, tying the game at seven.
With first base open, Parker O’Neil was intentionally walked, reloading the bases with Warriors. After Ryan Desaegher fouled out to the catcher for the first out of the inning, the batting order turned over, bring up Haw, who was looking for his third hit of the game. The Warriors’ shortstop drove a walk-off shot into left field that hopped the fence, driving in Canada and emptying the third base dugout in celebration.
Westmont starter Bradley Heacock, who did not figure in the decision, pitched four and two-third innings, giving up three runs on six hits. Zach Yates was called upon to take over the pitching duties for Heacock, and did so for two and two third innings. He allowed three runs on four hits. David Martinez pitched the final two-thirds of the eighth inning, allowing one run on one hit.
Cameron Phelps was asked to pitch the top of the ninth. He struck out the first two batters he faced and then appeared to give up a double to Rizzo. However, the Warriors appealed at first base, contending that Rizzo had missed the bag, which the umpire upheld. As a result, the side was retired with Phelps facing the minimum number of batters in the top of the ninth. When the Warriors came out on top in the bottom of the ninth, Phelps was awarded his first win of the season (1-0).
Just as game one ended, what had been very light sprinkles became more steady, causing the home team to cover both the mound and the batter’s box, and the fans to seek shelter. By the time game two was scheduled to start, however, the sunshine had returned to Russ Carr Field.
The second game provided another pitchers’ duel, this time between the Knights’ Brian Kraft and Westmont’s Chad Stoner, Jr. The game remained scoreless until the top of the fourth when a controversial call was involved in the first run.
With runners on second and third and one away, Rizzo hit a tapper back to the mound. Stoner fielded the ball and Conrad was caught halfway between third and home. Stoner ran at Conrad who attempted to retreat to third. Stoner then threw the ball to O’Neal, who was playing at third. Conrad reversed course and as he passed Stoner, who had moved off the baseline, Conrad threw his left elbow out and caught Stoner on the right arm.
The field umpire immediately called Stoner for obstruction, awarding Conrad home plate and giving third base to Turney, who had previously been on second. No amount of objection from Ruiz could convince the umpiring crew differently, and the Knights had their first run.
The score stood until the top of the second when the Knights added two more runs amidst more controversy. Robbie Brue was hit on his hand on a 1-2 pitch and awarded first base on what appeared to be a swinging strike. However, on appeal, the first base umpire called it a non-swing, resulting in Brue being placed on first as a hit batsman.
After Brue reached second on a bunt single by Conrad, Stoner gave way to Zach Grand on the mound. A sacrifice bunt by Turney advanced Brue and Conrad one base. Rizzo was then intentionally walked, loading the bases.
A sacrifice fly by Lontz drove in Brue before Conrad and Rizzo advanced a base on a wild pitch. Conrad then scored on an error by Grand, giving the Knights a 3-0 lead.
Then came the bottom half of the sixth.
Rego started things off with his second home run of the day, making it a 3-1 game. After O’Neal popped up, Justin Rodriguez singled to center field. Finn Snyder then singled to left, advancing Rodriguez to second.
Canada was then called upon to pinch hit for Paul Mezurashi. Kraft’s 0-1 pitch was in the dirt and got past Rizzo, the Knights’ catcher. Rodriguez dashed for third and Snyder for second. Rizzo retrieved the ball but threw it into left field, allowing Rodriguez to score and Snyder to reach third.
Now, with the Warriors down just one run (3-2), Canada chopped a 1-2 pitch through the right side of the infield for a single, driving in Snyder and tying the game at three. It was Canada’s first hit of the season.
“Jeremiah Canada was awesome,” said Ruiz. “It was a huge hit for him in that second game and I thought he played a good first game as well.”
That brought up Haw, who lined a 0-2 pitch into left center, moving Canada to third, and bringing an end to Kraft’s day. Ryan Skillman, who had been the designated hitter, came into pitch to Renck. The junior infielder drilled a ball into the right field corner for a double, driving in Canada and moving Haw to third. Reid then grounded to the right side of the infield to score Haw, giving Westmont a 5-3 advantage headed into the top of the final inning.
“Game two was another competitive start,” said Ruiz of Kraft’s pitching performance. “Up to the point when we scored, we were having trouble getting anything going offensively. Even when we were getting runners on, it was a weak hit or a walk. Then we turned around and put up a five spot because we stayed with an approach and found a way to put it together late. That speaks to the character of this team. They are not going to quit; they are always in the fight.”
Haw was then asked to close out the game on the mound for the Warriors, which he did by retiring the side in order on two groundouts and a pop up. It was Haw’s fourth save of the year and the 10th of his career, the latter of which ranks fifth in the Warriors’ record book.
Sam Kim (3-0), who pitched the final out of the sixth inning and helped the Warriors out of a jam, received the win. He faced just one batter, getting him to ground out.
“I am proud of this team and my hope is that we can continue to build off of this momentum that we carried through this weekend,” said Ruiz. “It was really important for us to get these games in before heading into a big weekend next weekend after having a week off last week.”
Westmont will return to Golden State Athletic Conference play next Friday and Saturday when it travels to Costa Mesa to take on the eighth ranked Lions of Vanguard (38-10, 20-8). Westmont, who is 23-5 in conference play, has a two game lead over #14 Hope International (34-12), headed into the final weekend. With a magic number of three, the Warriors can clinch the GSAC Regular Season Championship with three wins over Vanguard, or two wins and one loss by Hope International.