No. 22 California Lutheran University (18-6) overcome a slow start to live up to its billing atop the SCIAC Preseason Coaches’ Poll, earning the #1 seed in the 2017 Postseason Tournament. The University of La Verne (15-9) will travel to Thousand Oaks as the #4 seed while #2 Chapman University (16-8) hosts #3 University of Redlands (16-8) this Friday, May 5.
The Kingsmen lost two of their first three series to open conference play, but rode a month-long, four-series sweep to the best record of all nine teams in the SCIAC. CLU boasts the top fielding unit in the conference behind dual aces in Nate Wehner, who ranked third among starting pitchers with a 2.44 ERA, and Scott Roberts, who did not pitch in March but has since returned to make five starts and lead the SCIAC in ERA at 1.74. Troy Frazier also can lay claim to being the conference’s top pitcher thanks to a 1.75 ERA in relief, all of which allows an offense that ranked sixth in the conference and had only a single player rank among the top 20 in on-base percentage to hit just enough for the Kingsmen to win thrice as many games as they lost. Second baseman Max Weinstein paced CLU at the plate, ranking 10th in the conference in average while first baseman Weston Clark appeared ninth in OBP. Slotted second in the latest NCAA regional rankings, CLU must first get past one of the two teams to take a series against the presumptive favorite.
La Verne enters the tournament against all expectation, having been tabbed to finish sixth in the Preseason Poll, then scoring the fewest while allowing the most runs of any team in the field. Yet, the Leopards, who started the season 8-2, lost only two series in conference play, including defeating all three other contenders in their best-of-three matchups. Two-way starting pitcher Christopher Peres and left fielder Jakob Thomas have been the main cogs in that success, with the former batting .385 and ranking sixth in ERA (3.02) while the latter carries the only bat that has slugged more than one home run this spring (six; fourth in the SCIAC). Still, although La Verne took two of three games from CLU, that was back in February, with both wins coming by one run and the defeat by two.
In the other semifinal, Chapman will look to build on the momentum it created with a sweep of Occidental College to climb into the tournament. The Panthers are one of just two teams to have taken a series against Redlands this spring, making for a compelling matchup considering Chapman scored 31 more runs in conference play than any other team, while the Bulldogs were the only team to allow fewer than 100. Corner infielders Jared Love and Tyler Cook comprise the top offensive tandem in the SCIAC; Love led the conference in RBI (28), ranked second in both OBP (.541) and slugging (.732) and third in average (.415), while Cook ranked fourth in average (.408) and among the top 20 in OBP and SLG. With the conference’s second-ranked defense (by a mere .001) flanking starter Joey Harmon, who proved the most difficult pitcher to hit with just 28 allowed in 42 1/3 innings, those bats are made all the more effective.
The Bulldogs solidified their berth in the tournament with a sweep of Pomona-Pitzer Colleges that left them tied with Chapman at 16-8, but Redlands drew the #3 seed by virtue of Chapman winning the regular season series. National Pitcher of the Year candidate Felix Minjarez led the staff to the second-lowest ERA in the conference at 3.33 thanks to his personal 1.98 mark while striking out 10.53 batters per nine innings. The only conference game in which he did not record a quality start may have come against the Panthers, but with only two extra-base hits, eight singles and one walk allowed against eight strikeouts in seven innings, Minjarez could be considered unlucky to have surrendered five runs. Michael Collins provides a second strong option in the rotation, having ranked fourth in the SCIAC in ERA (2.96). The Bulldogs also bring two solid bats to the table in catcher Rainier Aguilar (second in average, fourth in OBP, seventh in SLG) and shortstop Aaron Singh (ninth in average, seventh in OBP, 12th in SLG), fueling an offense which second in the conference in average and OBP.