After a slow start to the season in nonconference play, the Puget Sound Loggers baseball team (10-10 overall, 8-4 Northwest Conference) is playing up to its lofty expectations, leading the Northwest Conference near the midpoint of the season.
The nonconference season started with a 2-6 record. The Loggers were unable to consistently put all three facets of the game (hitting, pitching and fielding) together at the same time leading to many close, heartbreaking losses.
“One game we would pitch well but not field or hit well and vice versa,” junior first-baseman Nate Backes (Seattle, Wash.) said, “but things started to click when conference came along.”
The team opened up conference play` taking two of three from Lewis and Clark College. But the defining moment of the season came in the game after the Lewis and Clark series, when Puget Sound took Linfield, ranked sixth in the nation at the time, to 15 innings (d3baseball.com).
While the Loggers ultimately fell short in an 8-7 loss, the team knew it had what it took to play with the one of the best teams in the nation.
After the 15-inning loss to Linfield, the Loggers won six straight games, taking the next two games from Linfield, sweeping Pacific University and beating Willamette once.
“Winning that series [versus Linfield] was a huge boost for the team. It got us one step close to our overall goal of winning conference,” Backes said. While the team has since cooled down, losing its last three games, the Loggers are still well positioned to fulfill the goal of winning conference.
The Loggers currently sit in first place with an 8-4 conference record. The offense has been on fire, leading the Northwest Conference with a combined team batting average of .338. The Loggers currently have two players hitting over .400 in Connor Savage (Bothell, Wash.) and Bobby Hosmer (Tuscon, Ariz.) and a whopping nine players (including Savage and Hosmer) such as Backes and last year’s leading hitter Chris Zerio (Pleasanton , Calif.) hitting over .300.
The pitching staff has had a little more inconsistency.
The team ERA is at 4.96, sixth best in the Northwest Conference.
First year Merle Rowan-Kennedy (Seattle, Wash.) has stepped up hugely for the pitching staff, assuming the third starting spot and posting a 3.82 ERA.
Sophomore starter Collin Maier (Billings, Mont.) is continuing to build on his stellar year, leading all starters with a 2.20 ERA and ace Steven Wagar (Yakima, Wash.) has provided steady play and leadership as well.
The young bullpen has been led by sophomore Zak Holcomb (Bellevue, Wash.), who has pitched 12.1 innings with an ERA of only 2.19 and first year Joshua Zavisbuin (Bellingham, Wash.), who has pitched 9.1 innings with a phenomenal 0.96 ERA.
Aside from the senior in Wagar, the rest of the pitching staff consists only of sophomore and first-year players.
This not only bodes well for the long term but also for the immediate future, as the pitching staff should grow stronger as the season continues and the young pitchers become more experienced and confident.
The team currently has 13 conference games left to play and three nonconference games (against University of Redlands), including a two-game series against second-place Willamette and a three game series against third-place Pacific Lutheran University.
These two series may very well define the season and a strong finish will be just as important as the strong start to conference play. Even if the Loggers do not win conference, they are well positioned to finish in the top four, putting them into a single elimination conference tournament for an automatic bid to the College World Series. But the team is not looking to settle for a fourth place finish.
“The team has bought into the fact that we can win conference and we deserve it,” Backes said. “We want it bad.”