2011 Summary: Bulldog Baseball Celebrates 100th Season in Grand Fashion
As the University of Redlands baseball program celebrated its centennial season, the 2011 team created an unforgettable campaign to complement this historical milestone. When all was said and done, Head Coach Scott Laverty's Bulldogs posted an overall record of 30-13, which stands as only the second 30-win performance in the club's 100-year history. But this was not enough as Redlands left its mark on the record books, captured the program's first conference title in five years, and notched its first NCAA Championship tournament victory since 1985.
The Maroon and Gray entered the 2011 campaign with high expectations and the team showed no hesitation in going after its goals. The Bulldogs rattled off 16 runs against the Golden Eagles of La Sierra University on February 8 to kick off the historical year. Senior outfielders Nate Carlson (Portland, OR) and Brandon Owashi (San Diego, CA) each tallied four hits on the day en route to the team's largest margin of victory for a season opener in over a decade.
After suffering a loss to NAIA power Cal Baptist University, the Bulldogs jumped into conference competition by taking two of three each against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Colleges and the University of La Verne. The squad then won five of its next seven contests, putting Redlands atop the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) standings with a 9-3 record against league foes.
While playing host to the Cal Invite, the Bulldogs took on several schools from across the country, posting five wins in seven contests during an eight-day stretch. Among the victories, Redlands took down Wabash College (IN) and Rutgers University-Newark by a combined score of 21-12. Carlson and junior designated hitter Trenton Lively (La Verne, CA) headlined the Wabash game by posting four hits apiece with a combined four RBI on an 8-for-9 performance. Owashi starred in the Rutgers-Newark contest with a trio of hits and runs.
In a high-scoring affair, the Bulldogs came up short in pulling off the upset against then-No. 4 Kean University (NJ), and then suffered a one-run defeat to Rutgers-Newark in a rematch battle.
Rebounding from these hiccups, the Maroon and Gray crushed the Bombers of Ithaca College (NY) by a solid score of 21-9. Carlson once again displayed his hot bat, recording a career-type game that included a 5-for-5 showing at the dish. While collecting five RBI, the veteran outfielder was just a triple shy of his third career cycle and blasted two long balls.
After dominating its final two opponents in the Cal Invite, Redlands jumped back into SCIAC action with a five-game win streak. In typical Bulldog fashion, the team swept Caltech during a three-game weekend series that was highlighted by one of the most impressive pitching feats in Division III history. The combination of sophomore starter Kyle Hart (Burbank, CA), freshman Casey Miller (Laguna Beach, CA) and junior Brock Jacobo (Yuma, AZ) refused to allow a hit, run, or walk en route to throwing a perfect game. As far as the record books show, this pitching effort was the first and only of its kind in NCAA Division III history. In addition, Redlands' defense provided a flawless supporting role for the stellar show from the mound.
While taking two of three each from Whittier College and then-23rd-ranked Pomona-Pitzer Colleges, the Maroon and Gray offense unfurled its fury with a 34-hit explosion against the Poets. In addition, Redlands rallied for another come-from-behind victory while facing the Sagehens in a Saturday twin bill. During the opening game, freshman outfielder Max Hardman (Encinitas, CA) launched a walk-off grand slam to secure the UR's win in the bottom of the ninth.
During the single-game round of conference competition, Redlands rolled to victory against Cal Lutheran, Occidental and La Verne to set up a memorable Bulldog Baseball Centennial Celebration on April 23. Prior to the team's game against CMS, Bulldog Athletics hosted a special luncheon and pre-game ceremony, which paid tribute to the team's 100th season and honored former, long-time, head coach Paul Taylor. With friends, family and alumni in attendance, the event was capped off by a story-book ending as junior pitcher Adam Byrd (Bullhead City, AZ) struck out the final Stag hitter to secure the 12-6 victory. After tossing his glove high into the sky, he was joined on field by his teammates, who created a dog-pile in honor of the program's 11th conference championship.
After earning at least a share of the coveted title, the Maroon and Gray dropped a single game to Pomona-Pitzer just one day after celebrating its historical achievement. The Bulldogs rebounded less than a week later with junior shortstop Chase Tucker (Poway, CA) propelling a three-run shot over the left-field fence in the bottom of the eighth inning to push past Whittier by a score of 3-2. With the win, the club garnered sole possession of the conference championship and earned the automatic bid to the NCAA Championships in Abilene, TX.
The team also gained six All-Conference selections, highlighted by senior pitcher Derek Johnson (Canby, OR) as the SCIAC Player of the Year. In addition to Johnson's award, Tucker and junior second baseman Cameron Lowe (Olympia, WA) notched First-Team honors, while Owashi, Hart and sophomore third baseman Jason Henning (Redlands, CA) landed on the Second Team. Overall, the team led the SCIAC in almost every offensive category, including average (.333), runs (218), hits (322), doubles, (66), RBI (186), and on-base percentage (.393). The pitching staff also headlined the conference in wins (22), fewest hits allowed (296), fewest walks allowed (67) and walks per game (2.57).
The Bulldogs concluded the regular season by picking up a win in a three-game non-conference series against 14th-ranked Chapman University. On Senior Day, the squad pulled off one of its classic come-from-behind performances in a 9-8 victory during the first game of the doubleheader. Highlighted by a pinch-hit homer from junior Ben Saunders (New River, AZ), Redlands posted six runs in the final two innings to nab the exciting victory.
Redlands enjoyed a great postseason start by defeating the Tigers of Trinity University (TX) in the first game of the NCAA Championships. The Bulldogs walked away with a 3-2 victory with its go-to guy leading them from the mound during this epic pitchers' duel. Johnson tossed a hard-fought 7.2 innings while allowing just two runs on five hits and three walks. He also fanned seven Tiger hitters en route to his 13th win of the season, which eclipsed the program's single-season record for victories. In addition, this marked the Bulldogs' first NCAA Championship win since the 1985 College World Series.
Unfortunately, the Maroon and Gray's exciting ride came to an end with consecutive losses to familiar foe Chapman and regional standout Concordia University (TX).
Once the season concluded, the squad continued to pile on the awards with six players collecting American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) Rawlings® All- West-Region honors. Johnson and Tucker highlighted the Bulldogs' selections by earning First-Team praise. Lowe and Carlson landed on the Second Team, while Owashi and Hart locked in Third-Team recognition.
In his final season, Johnson nabbed a pair of All-America accolades with a spot on the ABCA's Second Team as well as the D3baseball.com's Third Team. The ace of the Redlands staff ended the 2011 campaign by ranking among the elite pitchers in the nation with the second- most victories (13) to go along with top-five marks in strikeouts (107) and innings pitched (106.2).
Following this run of exciting wins, courageous efforts, and numerous milestones, the future of Bulldog baseball continues to look bright for the 101st season and beyond. Despite the loss of three instrumental seniors, the team anticipates the steady climb of its returning players with the sweet taste of success propelling them into another historical campaign.