LMU men’s baseball started their season this weekend, losing 2 out of 3 games in the opening series of the 2023 season, but managed to even it out with a come-from-behind win on Tuesday against Long Beach State University.
On Friday, Feb. 17, LMU (2-2) hit the field with a 3-game series against the San Jose State Spartans (2-1) at Page Stadium. The Spartans struck first, with three runs in the top of the 2nd due to a throwing error by starting pitcher Diego Barrera and an RBI single that allowed two runs to score. In the bottom of the 4th, the Lions answered with a two-run shot over the right-field wall by sophomore center fielder Devon Ornelas, allowing senior second baseman Cole Roberts to score.
The Lions tied the Spartans in the 5th on a fielder error, allowing sophomore right fielder Khadim Diaw to reach first and catcher Jared Thomas to score from third base. The Spartans scored four runs in the 7th, and the Lions responded with a three-run homer from Thomas in the 9th. The Lions lost opening day 7-6, with six hits and two errors.
“I thought I took the ball well. A couple things didn’t go our way, but we bounced back …which is all that really mattered,” said Barrera, starting pitcher.
Barrera went 4.2 innings and struck out six opponents. He allowed three runs (one earned) on five hits and no walks. He was relieved by senior David Watson, who allowed four runs. Junior Seamus Barrett made his LMU debut with 1.1 innings of scoreless relief, while graduate student Jimmy Galicia and freshman Chaz McRoberts finished the game with 2.1 scoreless innings.
“We finished the game the way we wanted to,” Barrera said. “We fought back in the last inning and scored three runs. That gave us some momentum the next day, knowing that we could take anybody and win at any time; I think a lot of us were pretty fired up to get another shot at it the next day.”
On Saturday, Feb. 18, LMU retaliated against SJS, winning the game 6-2. SJS caught an early lead in the top of the 2nd, grabbing a two-run shot off senior pitcher Zach Kirby, but junior third baseman Diego Baqueiro’s home run in the bottom of the 2nd cut their lead in half. The Spartans would stay scoreless the rest of the game. In the 7th inning, the Lions took control of the game when Ornelas hit a 2 RBI double, bringing in Roberts and senior first baseman Dylan Dennis. Sophomore left fielder Sam Biller got an RBI triple and scored on a groundout by Thomas.
In the bottom half of the 8th, Diaw singled and later reached second on a walk by Dennis. Ornelas singled to the right, advancing all of them. With the bases loaded, Diaw scored after a pitch hit Biller.
Kirby dominated the mound during the second game against SJS, throwing a remarkable 12 strikeouts and only allowing two runs, four hits, and one walk. Junior Merrick Baldo made his 2023 debut with two perfect innings in the 8th and 9th, securing the Lions’ first win.
“It was so exciting getting that first one under our belt,” junior pitcher Connor Kershaw said. “It was a big team win on Saturday. We had a great start from Kirby and all our pitchers after that did their job and the offense provided. I mean winning is always fun, but it’s always better when everybody takes the part.”
During the final game on Sunday, Feb. 19, the Spartans returned with revenge, blowing the Lions out 12-2. Sophomore designated hitter Brett Zimmerman walked and scored a run. Baqueiro and Thomas continued their hot streak with a hit apiece.
“Over the past years we’ve dealt with loss a lot.” Kershaw said. “It hurts every time we lose, but looking at it, it’s the first series of the year, there’s gonna be nerves, there is going to be excitement. We can learn from the mistakes and come out tomorrow to try and prove all of this.”
After finishing last season 20-34-1 with a .373 win percentage, the Lions hope to turn this year’s season around. The LMU baseball coaching staff signed 14 new players, including nine incoming freshmen, one junior transfer, and four players from other Division 1 schools. The team is making deliberate efforts to integrate their new teammates, especially the underclassman.
“Part of our culture, and the way it’s grown over the years, is to abolish any barriers and any sense of hierarchy between the upper and under class men,” Kershaw said. “For us it’s more about teaching these guys what the culture is and how we come together as a family to play with no separation. That’s made a big difference with us getting close to them early on.”
That unity is evident from these new players’ accomplishments on the field.
“Looking at this weekend, all our freshmen played well. Just from some of the guys getting some at-bats and making plays in the infield,” Kershaw said. “As a freshman you definitely have some of those nerves playing in your first game. Watching our freshmen, it seemed like they had those nerves, but they were able to calm themselves down. They proved themselves this weekend.”
The Lions played the Long Beach State Dirtbags (2-2) on Tuesday, Feb. 21, at Page Stadium. After overcoming two deficits, the Lions bounced back in the bottom of the 8th with a double by Ornelas and Dennis and a sacrifice fly by Roberts to score Ornelas and tie the game 5-5. In the end, the Lions pulled through and won 7-5 with Diaw’s 2-run walk-off home run.
They will gear up again this weekend for a 3 game series against the Oklahoma State Cowboys (2-2) in Stillwater, OK.
“Fans should expect an exciting game every time they come to the field,” Kershaw said. “We have really good competitive players who have been in this program for a long time and all of the new additions who fit in really well. It’s gonna be a really exciting year, and I’m excited for all of that to come.”