THOUSAND OAKS — You couldn't ask for a much better baseball game between two nationally ranked teams.
There were diving catches, close calls and key hits.
But after 11 full innings and plenty of drama, the No. 8 Occidental baseball team beat No. 18 Cal Lutheran 4-3 in Game 3, winning an important series for first place 2-1 this weekend.
Season Impact: The Tigers' magic number for their first SCIAC Championship since 1982 is now two. Any combination of Oxy wins or Cal Lutheran losses that add to two in the final four regular season SCIAC games means the Tigers clinch at least a share of the SCIAC Championship and host the SCIAC Postseason Tournament on May 6-8.
Oxy, improves to 28-6 and 20-4 in SCIAC play, holding a two-game lead over the Kingsmen, who fall to 24-11 and 18-6.
The Tigers have won 26 of their last 28 games.
Brancheau finished the game 3 for 5 with 3 RBIs and a double. Fuller went 3 for 6 with a pair of runs scored.
Oxy star Devon DeRaad, who leads the SCIAC in average, on base percentage, home runs, RBIs and slugging percentage, had a key single in the 11th that moved Fuller into scoring position. The Kingsmen mostly pitched around him all series.
In the bottom of the 11th, Riley James shut the door on Cal Lu, finishing off an outstanding relief performance. After Oxy starter Nolan Watson handed the ball to James with a runner on in the seventh, the junior went 4.2 innings pitched with no earned runs, just three hits and two strikeouts.
Watson gave up two earned runs, with five strikeouts, in 6.1 innings.
Cal Lu was the first team to threaten significantly in extra innings, getting a runner in scoring position on a sacrifice bunt with one out in the bottom of the 10th. But Oxy shortstop Reid Gibbs made an excellent pick and throw over to first on a hard-hit ball that might have scored the game-winning run from second, for the second out, and then James struck out the next batter to end the inning.
The Tigers were on the wrong side of a close call at third base in the top of the ninth that prevented them from perhaps winning the game in nine innings. CLU pitcher Nate Wehner overthrew first base on a bunt by Charlie Caccamo, sending the ball down the right-field line. Caccamo made it easily to second and tried to get to third, but was called out on a bang-bang play.
Brancheau sent a high fly ball to center two batters later which would have been Oxy's go-ahead sacrifice fly.
Eamon McNeil made Oxy's defensive play of the game in the eighth inning with two outs and a runner on second. Max Price crushed a shot into the left-center gap, but McNeil got on his horse from left field, covered some serious ground and made a diving catch to end the inning.
Oxy threatened its first run in the fourth inning, getting runners to first and third with one out, but Gibbs struck out swinging and was called for batter's interference as Bryan Smith was stealing second, ending the inning with a double play.
The Tigers finally got on the scoreboard in the top of the fifth. Graham Pimm started the rally with a single, Fuller followed his lead with a single of his own and then Charlie Caccamo singled in Pimm, evening the game at 1-1. The Kingsmen walked DeRaad, loading the bases for Brancheau, who blasted a line-drive double off of the wall in center field, scoring Fuller and Caccamo, extending Oxy's lead to 3-1.
Cal Lu got even in the bottom of the fifth. Max Price reached on an error, Chad Clark singled him in and then Ramsey Abushahla doubled in Clark, tying the game 3-3.
Price drove in Cal Lu's first run with a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the second.
Wednesday, April 27 - Occidental at Claremont-M-S 3 p.m.
Saturday, April 30 - Occidental at Pomona-Pitzer 3 p.m.
Sunday, May 1 - Whittier at Occidental 11 a.m.
Sunday, May 1 - Caltech at Occidental 3 p.m.
** The final four games are a part of the regular season **Follow Oxy Athletics on Twitter Sign Up for Newsletters Watch on Youtube Follow us on Instagram