This Linfield baseball team is going to contend for the Northwest Conference title this year. In fact, they look like they can win it.
Picked to finish third in the NWC this year by the coaches, it’s obvious that their ceiling is much higher than third place if you watch the team.
Except you wouldn’t have known this if you judged them by their first game of the season.
When starting a baseball season, winning a game 6-0 is definitely an ideal outcome. If you are on the losing side of the coin, however, the taste in a team’s mouth is sour—not Sour Patch Kids style—and unwelcome.
Unfortunately for the Linfield baseball team, it started the 2013 season on the losing side of the coin down at a tournament in Arizona. La Verne College was the team who scored six runs. Linfield stranded 12 men on base including five men on third.
This was definitely not the way to start the season, especially considering the disappointing end to 2012. Last year’s team was ranked as high as number two in the country, but fell out of the rankings completely later in the season and finished a pedestrian fourth place in the NWC.
Luckily, Linfield righted the ship in a huge way by eviscerating Redlands University, 15-3. The team hasn’t looked back since then and has dominated in every facet of the game.
In the six games following Redlands, the pitching staff has fired three shutouts and given up a total of three earned runs. That’s a team Earned Run Average (ERA) of .5 with a strikeout per nine-inning rate of 7.32 and a walks per nine-inning rate of 1.97. That’s incredible.
The staff is due for some ERA regression—.5 is not sustainable—but a six game stretch of dominance like that with a strikeout to walk ratio of 3.71/1 means the NWC should be afraid: the pitching staff is a force to be reckoned with.
Good pitching goes hand-in-hand with good defense, and during this weekend, the defense only made two errors and both occurred in the same game. A play that was indicative of the stellar defense by the team was a diving snag by senior third baseman Michael Hopp on Feb. 24 against Oregon Institute of Technology.
The hitting has been outstanding. Even by including the La Verne game, the team has a slash line of .338/.404/.463 and the team was hitting .462 with runners in scoring position and less than two outs entering the game against Oregon Tech on Sunday.
“The way last season ended made us all work harder in the offseason…we are definitely using the disappointment as motivation and we want to be the best,” junior Jake Wiley said. “The team is playing really well right now…the chemistry we have together is amazing.”
Wylie himself launched an absolute moonshot over the left field fence in the fourth inning on Sunday, easily traveling more than 400 feet.
If this seven-game stretch is indicative of the potential of this team, they can travel like Wylie’s moonshot. It seems as if La Verne and last season are in the rear view, and the coaches probably made a mistake when putting Linfield in third place.
Tyler Bradley/ Sports columnist
Tyler Bradley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.