LOS ANGELES — Scott Hong (Los Angeles) started a six-run ninth-inning rally with a double and then finished it by driving in the go-ahead run, leading the Occidental College baseball team to a 9-8 win at Whittier on Saturday in what's likely the team's season finale.
Whittier, the only SCIAC team the Tigers hadn't beaten, led 8-3 with just three outs left to get. But the Tigers rallied for six runs, on six hits, and Hong closed the door in the bottom half with his sixth save of the season.
The do-it-all stud had his name all over it, but the comeback was as close to a complete team effort as you can get.
Hong, Logan Allen (Atascadero), Pedro Aldape (Sherman Oaks), and Johnathan Brooks (Huntington Beach) all got hits; Anthony Salsedo (Tracy) walked twice and John Ugai (Durango, Colo.) walked once; Casey Harms (Fair Oaks) got hit by a pitch; and Jonathan Wong (Grizzly Flats) and Chris Caldwell (Santa Clarita) scored runs after coming into pinch run during the Tigers big inning.
Brooks' single, with one out, brought in Wong and Ugai, tying the game at eight. Oxy nearly took the lead when Dan Kelley (Kirkland, Wash.) hit a chopper to second base, but Harms was thrown out at the plate, trying to score from third, and thrown out of the game for a dangerous slide.
Still the table was set for Hong. With a 3-0 count, Occidental baseball coach Luke Wetmore gave Hong the green light to swing. The junior lined a soft single to left field off of the end of the bad, bringing Caldwell home and putting Oxy up 9-8.
"I wanted to get out of his way. That's why I gave him the green light," said the first-year head coach. "I knew he was going to come through."
He did and the Tigers notched another late victory, the sixth time this season they have won a game in their last turn at the plate.
"Our guys believe in each other and that's the bottom line. It takes the pressure off of you when you have faith in your teammates," Wetmore said. "You don't' have to put it all on your shoulders. When you trust teammates to do their job, it frees you up to do the best of your ability."
That was the theme all season for the most successful Oxy baseball squad in decades. The Tigers finish the season 23-16 overall and 18-10 in SCIAC, the best winning percentage the Tigers have had since the 1982 SCIAC Championship team.
"The first conversation I had with the team was about making history and we talked about the 1982 SCIAC championship team," Wetmore said. "(We talked about) how it's been done here and the great winning tradition we have here.
"It kind of feels like we are coming full circle. We finished with best record since (1982) and accomplished a lot this year."
With 16 losses, the chances aren't good that the third-place Tigers will receive an at-large bid to the NCAA Division III tournament. But with a nucleus of juniors returning, and a big, talented recruiting class expected, the future looks bright in Eagle Rock.
"There is always an outside shot. But right now it's about honoring our seniors and how we get better from here," Wetmore said. "It's an honor to be a part of a program with such amazing players, parents, alums, fans and administrative support."