By Alex Nieves Sports Information
LOS ANGELES — It took a full nine innings, a safety squeeze and a couple of big home runs, but Occidental (1-2) was able to rally from behind to pick up its first win of the season in an 8-7 nail bitter against Whitworth.
The victory comes against a Whitworth squad that is just two seasons removed from an NCAA tournament appearance.
"It feels better than losing, but for us it's about controlling the details that we can and we didn't play was well as we could have," Oxy head coach Luke Wetmore said. "If we took care of a few more things, it wouldn't have been such a nail bitter."
Walker Marks laid down a bunt in the bottom of the ninth with the Tigers down 7-6, driving in the tying run, on a perfectly executed safety squeeze. After Marks came in safe on an error at first base, Occidental had the bases loaded with no outs, and Van Fudge didn't need to swing the bat for the game-winning RBI, walking in the winning run.
It has been a slow start to the season for the Oxy hitters, but the bats finally came alive in the fourth inning. Victor Munoz blasted a three-run bomb over the center field wall to knot things up at 6 in the bottom of the fourth inning. His home run put the finishing touches on a five run inning that included a two-RBI single from Marks and three Whitworth errors.
"I stepped out, it was a 2-0 count and all I thought about was what Coach [Terry] Phillips told me, which was to back off the plate and go the other way," Munoz said. "I didn't know I had tied the game until I was back in the dugout and I looked at the scoreboard."
Riley Smith got the scoring started for the Tigers, blasting a solo shot over the left center wall in the 1st inning.
Mitch Margolis (1-0) pitched five strong innings in relief to shut down the Whitworth offense and earn the win. He picked up five strikeouts and gave up just three hits, while finishing his day with no earned runs. The only run off of Margolis came after a Marks error at shortstop kept the inning going.
"I just went out there knowing they are a good hitting team," Margolis said. "I just tried to hit my spots and mix up my pitches and everything was working pretty well."
Things looked bleak for the Tigers after a line drive to left center from A.J. Libunao, that would have likely driven in two runs, giving Occidental the lead, was snagged by the Whitworth left fielder to end the eight inning.
Starting pitcher C.J. Maruyama struggled, giving up 10 hits and two earned runs in four innings of work, but strong play from the outfield and some timely relay putouts at second base kept the Pirates from adding more.
Defensively, Munoz added another strong performance behind the plate to go with his three RBIs.
The Tigers are back in action with a three game series against SCIAC opponent Chapman, playing at Chapman on Feb. 14 before coming home for a doubleheader on Feb. 15.