California Lutheran University's Student Newspaper Since 1961

The Echo

California Lutheran University's Student Newspaper Since 1961

The Echo

California Lutheran University's Student Newspaper Since 1961

The Echo

Kingsmen Baseball Beats Texas Lutheran, 5th-Ranked Team in Nation

Senior left-handed pitcher Justin Fong gave up four hits in seven innings and pitched five perfect innings during the March 1 matchup against the Bulldogs. Despite letting in two runs, the pitcher struck out nine of Texas Lutheran’s batters.  (Photo by Spencer Hardie - Photojournalist)
Senior left-handed pitcher Justin Fong gave up four hits in seven innings and pitched five perfect innings during the March 1 matchup against the Bulldogs. Despite letting in two runs, the pitcher struck out nine of Texas Lutheran’s batters.
(Photo by Spencer Hardie – Photojournalist)

In a battle between the last two winners of the NCAA Division III College World Series, the California Lutheran University baseball team prevailed over the defending champion Texas Lutheran Bulldogs on Friday, March 1 with a score of 4-2.

The nation’s 5th-ranked Bulldogs jumped to an early 2-0 lead, but ultimately succumbed to the Kingsmen. After a momentum-shifting three-run double to right center field from junior second baseman Nick Pico unloaded the bases, Cal Lutheran took a 4-2 lead that remained intact for the rest of the game.

“It felt good to take down the no. 5 ranked team in the nation,” said senior pitcher Justin Fong, who got the start for the Kingsmen on the mound. “I felt pretty good through seven innings and was able to shut them down for the most part.”

Fong gave up just two runs on four hits with nine strikeouts en route to his second win in what was only the second start of his collegiate career.

“I think Fong’s success can be attributed to his sharp focus and competitiveness when he pitches,” senior catcher Kaden White said. “Justin’s commitment to perfecting his craft in practice allows him to play with confidence and with a smile on his face.”

Fong started the game striking out four batters in the first two innings—three of which came in a 1-2-3 second inning with each hitter looking at strike three.

Texas Lutheran opened it up in the top of the third when first-year Bulldogs catcher Collin Docker poked a one-out single to left field, followed by a walk by sophomore second baseman Austin Colon. With runners on first and second, junior infielder Thomas Varner’s single to center field scored Docker, giving Texas Lutheran a 1-0 lead.

Colon scored later in the inning off sophomore outfielder Cullen Motsinger’s two-out single up the middle. But with runners on first and second, Fong was able to leave the inning without any other damage with a ground out to third base for the final out of the frame.

Fong followed up his two-run third inning with three consecutive hitless frames, going three-up, three-down in each of them.

Fong got run support from his teammates in the bottom of the sixth inning, starting with a single through the left side by junior center fielder Cortez Espinoza. Sophomore third baseman Tanner Wright and junior first baseman Ryne Yamashiro followed up with base-hits of their own to load the bases.

Espinoza scored Cal Lutheran’s first run of the game when junior right fielder Matt Sciumbato drew a one-out walk. That’s when junior second baseman Nick Pico came up clutch with a double to score Sciumbato, Yamashiro and Wright, marking the end of the day for Texas Lutheran starting pitcher Dylan Murrell.

“We prepared ourselves all week to face a tough opponent,” White said. “I think our discipline, tenacity and composure allowed us to overcome the early deficit and hold the lead after the clutch performance by Nick Pico.”

With a 4-2 lead, Head Coach Marty Slimak went to Zach Hardman out of the bullpen in the eighth inning. The sophomore from Colorado gave up a single to Texas Lutheran’s sophomore second baseman Austin Colon, who added pressure by stealing second.

But Hardman rallied to finish the inning, inducing two ground-outs to Wright and capping off the top half of the eighth frame with a strikeout.

Junior reliever Christian Slattery earned his fourth save of the season after retiring the side in the ninth with a hitless 1-2-3 inning.

The Kingsmen out-hit Texas Lutheran 9 to 5, powered by another spectacular day at the plate by Wright. For the second consecutive game, the sophomore went 3-for-4 and finished with the most hits on the team.

Wright, who boasts the highest batting average on the team with a mark of .464 (13-for-28 through eight games) credited his success at the plate to his mental approach.

“Staying within myself, staying with the approach, just getting on base for my teammates,” Wright said.

While currently listed outside of the NCAA’s top 25 ranking, a win over the 5th-ranked team in the nation gives Cal Lutheran a significant resume booster. The Kingsmen, who were the next-leading vote-getter with 55 votes in last week’s top-25 poll, have their next opportunity to enhance their case as a top-25 team with a home game this Tuesday, March 5 against Drew University.

“We’re trying to make a name for ourselves early in the season, and to beat a team like that is really big for us,” Pico said. “Hopefully it gets seen throughout the nation.”

Jake Gould
Reporter

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