WHITTIER, Calif. (Apr. 15, 2017) – Caltech baseball added legitimacy to its first SCIAC win in 29 years with a second just two weeks later in a 13-12 slugfest at Whittier College on Saturday.
After leading through six innings in the Friday game before being blanked in the first of the Saturday doubleheader, the Beavers erased a two-run deficit in the third inning of the nightcap with a five-run barrage and never looked back. Senior Kai Kirk (San Jose, Calif. / Wesleyan Univ.) once more played a starring role, again driving in the game-tying run and scoring the go-ahead to kick-start the offense en route to a second historic victory this season. Not to be lost in the moment was the fact that sophomore Mark Burleson (Ladera Ranch, Calif. / Tesoro) broke the program record for hits in a single season, cracking his 41st in the fourth inning of Saturday's morning game and going on to tally two more in the afternoon.
Prior to the Beavers' 4-3 win over Pomona-Pitzer Colleges a fortnight ago, Caltech had not won a conference game since 1988, with the most recent victory before that having come in 1983. Coming into the day, the Beavers had won two games against SCIAC foes since 1978, when they earned one SCIAC and another non-conference victory over Pomona-Pitzer. Caltech's last two-win SCIAC season came in 1973, when the Beavers defeated Pomona twice and Occidental College once in 18 conference games.
Game 1: Caltech 2, Whittier 5
The weekend series began with ceremonial dual first pitches to officially commemorate the opening of the Institute's brand-new, state-of-the-art turf field. Looking to mark the occasion with a victory, the Beavers jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the second inning due to an error that allowed Kirk to score from first base. Sophomore Jonah Krop (Santa Monica, Calif. / Santa Monica) recorded his first four outs via strikeout and had racked up five by the end of the second inning as he shut out the Poets over the first six.
The Beavers doubled their lead in the bottom of the sixth inning on a sacrifice fly by freshman Minjae Kim (Busan, South Korea / West Vancouver Secondary School) that plated junior Garrett Levine (Columbus, Ohio / Columbus Acad.). Whittier's bats woke up at that point as a leadoff single and flare double down the right field line put runners in scoring position with no outs. A groundout and sacrifice fly scored both and Caltech was unable to answer, with Whittier adding three insurance runs on a solo homer and two-run error with two outs in the eighth inning. Krop still claimed the quality start, as he would be charged with three earned runs on seven hits and three walks while striking out six in the complete game.
Game 2: Caltech 0, Whittier 2
Kirk went toe-to-toe with Poets ace Alex Baez, who would punch out 13 while walking five in a three-hit complete game. The senior captain surrendered just two runs on seven hits and three walks in eight innings as Caltech was unable to get anything going on offense, only once putting two men in scoring position when the Beavers loaded the bases with one out in the fourth inning. Whittier tallied its first run in the fourth and plated a two-out insurance run in the seventh, while a double play groundout erased a pair of leadoff walks for the Beavers in the top of the ninth.
Game 3: Caltech 13, Whittier 12
The Beavers had their best day at the plate since 2014 and scored their most runs in a SCIAC game since 1999 in the series-ending victory. They needed every single one to close it out despite holding a nine-run lead heading to the bottom of the eighth inning, as the Poets staged a furious rally in a desperate attempt to defend their home field. After Whittier scratched out seven runs on two walks, five singles and just one extra-base hit (a double), Levine came in to put out the fire. Already the Beavers' first reliever to record even a single save since at least the turn of the millennium, the junior worked out his nerves with a walk and run-scoring single before getting out of the inning with a fly ball to centerfield and a one-run lead intact.
Caltech had a chance to add an insurance run as Burleson reached second base after a leadoff single and sacrifice bunt, but a pair of fly outs to right field brought the Poets back to the plate with momentum squarely on their side. Levine coaxed the leadoff batter into a groundout to second, but allowed the tying run to reach first on a single to right field. The next batter smacked a comebacker right at Levine, who wheeled around to get the lead runner at second base, but the runner slid into freshman Cortland Perry (New York, N.Y. / The Dalton School), bringing an abrupt end to the game as both he and the hitter were called out by rule.
Six Beavers recorded at least two hits in the victory, with senior Harrison Jacobs (Tucson, Ariz. / Catalina Foothills) recording three and Levine drawing two walks to score a team-high four runs. Burleson and Kirk led the squad over the weekend, each batting .385 while combing for three runs and five RBI.