On a blustery day at Russ Carr Field, Westmont Baseball (24-14, 15-13 GSAC) took both ends of a Golden State Athletic Conference doubleheader to complete a three-game sweep of #6 Concordia (29-13, 16-11). The Warriors won the first game by a score of 10-6, and then claimed a 7-3 victory in the seven-inning second game.
"It was a big weekend for our program," said Westmont head coach Robert Ruiz. "We have a lot of respect for Concordia. They are a disciplined and well-coached team. Our guys had an elevated level of focus that was able to sustain through three games this weekend."
With the wins, another milestone was reached under Ruiz' rebuilding of the Westmont Baseball program. For the first time since April 15, 2000, the Warriors are 10 games over .500.
Headed into the final three weeks of the conference regular season, the Warriors find themselves in a dog fight for one of four positions in the GSAC postseason tournament. The top four teams will advance to the double-elimination conference tournament that begins on May 1. The top five teams are separated by only four and one-half games.
Westmont is currently in fifth place, one and one-half game out of fourth place, two games out of third and two and one-half games out of second. Concordia, which started the weekend in first, has fallen to fourth place.
Taking the hill for the Warriors in Saturday's first game was sophomore Russell Harmening (9-2). The right-hander pitched seven innings giving up three runs, only one of which was earned. He allowed eight hits, struck out five and did not allow a walk.
"He has been consistent for us," said Ruiz of Harmening. "He competes in the strike zone and understands the game well. He came off a long compete-game victory last week and today was efficient and effective. I have been very impressed with his poise and his demeanor throughout the season. He handles the highs and the lows and minimizes the damage in the rough situations."
Harmening is currently tied with seven others for most wins in the NAIA. Westmont has not had a nine game winner since Chris Kurz went 10-10 in 1996.
The bottom of the second inning saw the Warriors post seven runs on the scoreboard to take an early 7-1 lead. With men on first and second and no outs, Brent Fukushima laid down a perfect bunt that rolled slowly up the third base line, attended by Concordia third baseman Robert Shiroky. The ball inched into the grass before returning to the dirt. Eight feet from the third base bag, the ball came to rest just inside the baseline. By the time it did, the bags were full of Warriors.
"Just like (Concordia's) third baseman, I thought it was going to roll foul," said Ruiz. "But it had good spin and stayed fair. That play shifted the momentum and gave our dugout energy. This weekend we executed every one of our bunt situations."
In the three game series, Fukushima was seven of 10 at the plate with two doubles, a walk and four runs scored.
Four runs after Fukushima's bunt, Brandon Gildea stepped to the plate and deposited the ball over the left field fence for a three-run home run.
Concordia scored two in the fourth inning and three more in the eighth to make the score 7-6. However, the Warriors responded with three runs in the bottom of the eighth. After a lead-off double by Fukushima, and a sacrifice bunt by Rudy Leon, Will Barring was intentionally walked. That's when Ruiz decided to send Derek Rodigo to the plate as a pinch hitter.
The freshman had played well in the fall, but had seen little action in the regular season due to an injury. Rodigo took full advantage of his second collegiate at bat and delivered a double against the right-center field fence, driving in Fukushima. A sacrifice fly by Steven Pollex and a wild pitched that allowed Chris Stroh to cross the plate completed the scoring.
In the top of the ninth, Gildea switched places in the battery, closing out the game from the hill.
"It takes a special kind of guy to catch 17 innings against a quality team and then close out the 18th inning on the mound," noted Ruiz. "Then he came back and caught the third game. He has a positive attitude and is there to help his team win, whatever that looks like."
In the second game, Casey Schapper was called upon to take the mound after scheduled starter Alex Bush was injured in the first game while playing first base. Schapper (2-0) earned a complete-game victory allowing three runs on five hits over seven innings.
Rodigo, who was rewarded for his pinch hitting prowess in the first game with a start at third base in the second, went two of three. His lead-off single in the second inning turned into the Warriors' first run. Fukushima doubled to advance Rodigo to third and Leon hit a ground ball to second to drive in Rodigo.
Westmont broke a 1-1 tie in the fourth inning by producing three runs. Once again, Rodigo led off with a single. Fukushima moved Rodigo up a base on a single to left and both runners picked up an extra base on an error by the left fielder. Rodigo scored on a sacrifice fly to center field by Leon and Fukushima scored when Barring tripled to right field. Baring would later score on an error.
Barring was three for six in the twin bill with three runs scored and four RBIs.
As in the first game, Concordia closed to within one run (4-3) by scoring two in the top of the fifth inning. In the bottom of the sixth, however, Barring and Stroh delivered back-to-back home runs to tally three more runs in the Warriors' favor.
"I'd be a liar if I didn't say that I thought they were a little wind aided," said Ruiz. "But both teams played in the same conditions and Will and Stroh put good swings on the baseball. We had timely hitting in a series that was this important."
The Warriors will take on Arizona Christian at Russ Carr Field on Thursday in a doubleheader make-up beginning at noon. Then on Friday at noon, Westmont hosts non-conference opponent Antelope Valley in a doubleheader. On Saturday, the Warriors will travel to Lancaster as Antelope Valley hosts the Warriors at Clear Channel Stadium in a one o'clock doubleheader.