Commanded by fifth-year Head Coach Aaron Holley, the University of Redlands baseball team put together an exemplary season filled with accolades and excitement galore. Among the many highlights of the season, the Bulldogs produced two All-Americans and a Golden Glove recipient and saw two seniors picked up by the San Diego Padres. Following its postseason run, the Maroon and Gray boasted a record of 33-13, which establishes a new program standard for wins in a season. In addition, the Bulldogs excelled in Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) action with a 19-5 mark, which catapulted them into a share of the regular-season title for the program's 12th all-time.
The campaign led off in Tucson, AZ, with a trio of non-conference wins at the Cactus Classic. First, the Bulldogs used a nine-run, third inning to capture a 14-9 decision over familiar foe Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Colleges. The offensive outburst started with a triple from senior right fielder Jordan Babbitt (Highland, CA), which allowed two runners to touch home. With the bases loaded and only one out, senior catcher Rainier Aguilar (San Bernardino, CA) cleared the bases with a double, while junior first basemen Brendan Moore (Murrieta, CA) knocked an RBI-single to give the Bulldogs a six-run cushion to carry the victory. During the second game, Redlands dominated with a 20-6 throttling over Sul Ross State University (TX). The Maroon and Gray registered five innings with three or more runs, including five scored in the fourth. Senior second baseman Will Hall (Seattle, WA), classmate Brendan Gardiner (Mission Viejo, CA), and junior shortstop Aaron Singh (Anaheim, CA) each recorded three runs, while Gardiner also tallied two RBI.
On day two of the Cactus Classic, Redlands faced a formidable opponent in the University of Texas-Dallas and mustered an exciting 9-8 victory in 10 innings. After a scoreless two frames, solid hitting and base-running put the Bulldogs up by a score of 2-0. Although UT-Dallas came back with six runs over the next two innings, Redlands answered with five of its own in the sixth alone to tie the game at seven apiece. The back-and-forth style of the game continued, which eventually sent it into extra innings. Hall stepped up to the plate and successfully laid down the squeeze play that gave passageway to Singh, who made it home safely for the Bulldogs' 9-8 advantage. After first-year pitcher Justin Yang (Fountain Valley, CA) climbed the mound in the eighth, he fended off UT-Dallas by fanning three and relying on his defense to preserve Redlands' win.
The next day, the Bulldogs faced Concordia University (TX), which also forced extra innings. Unfortunately, this extended contest did not go in Redlands' favor, as the Bulldogs fell 4-6 in 10 frames.
After a week's rest, the Bulldogs competed at home in the first, three-game series of the season by taking on Chapman University in SCIAC action. Led by Aguilar's two runs and two RBI, the Maroon and Gray cranked out a 10-4 victory over the Panthers. Senior pitcher Felix Minjarez (Riverside, CA) earned the win with nine strikeouts in six innings of work. However, the tide took a negative turn in the subsequent game, which allowed Chapman to come from behind for the one-run victory. Nonetheless, the Maroon and Gray refused to stay down for long and returned the favor with a 4-3 win to seal the series triumph over the Panthers. Once the Bulldogs put up three runs in the first inning, they never relinquished the lead in the rubber match. After senior starter Noah Jones (San Bernardino, CA) threw a solid 7.1 innings, first-year pitcher Chris Fousek Jr. (San Diego, CA) finished the game strong while earning his first career save in a Maroon and Gray uniform. In addition, this marked the Bulldogs' first, regular-season series victory over the Panthers in Aaron Holley's tenure as head coach.
Redlands put together another 2-1 series against SCIAC foe, Whittier College. After losing the opener, the Bulldogs made the necessary adjustments to not only capture the doubleheader triumph over Whittier but initiated a hot streak that included 10 wins over the next 11 games. The Bulldogs earned their first series sweep of the season when they topped Cal Lutheran University by scores of 11-2, 3-0, and 6-4. The final win against the Kingsmen required the heroic efforts of senior outfielder Kyle Kabeary (Indio, CA), who launched a two-run dinger to tie the score in the top of the ninth. After great pitching and defense, the game went into the 10th, where the Redlands offense dazzled with more clutch hitting. Aguilar took a solo trip around the bases before sophomore designated hitter Andrew Renteria (Van Nuys, CA) provided a sacrifice fly for the eventual 6-4 win.
The Bulldogs returned home on March 5 and cruised to a pair of wins over Ursinus College (PA) by outscoring the Bears, 21-7, to conclude the winning streak. Pitching remained top-notch during this impressive stretch, as highlighted by senior pitcher Adam Stead (Rialto, CA) eclipsing 10 or more strikeouts on two of his three appearances. He also only gave up five runs in those three games.
Following a game-one loss to Centenary College (LA) in a non-conference twin bill, the Bulldogs returned to their winning ways in the second game against the Gents with a 4-2 victory. The Maroon and Gray continued to have success against non-conference opponents by posting wins over Endicott College (MA) (13-2) and Dickinson College (PA) (23-2). In the 21-run victory, Gardiner offered one of the most dominant games of his career by scoring five times with a 3-for-3 effort at the plate. Rookie catcher Bart In den Kleef (Oosterhout, Netherlands) also came to play by recording two hits and four RBI.
After the Bulldogs went 1-2 in three non-conference contests, they rattled off eight consecutive victories for the longest win streak since an 8-0 run during the 2011 season. Redlands was firing on all cylinders with three shutouts against Caltech en route to a 31-0 scoring margin. In the opening win over the Beavers, Minjarez recorded a career-best 12 strikeouts, which is the most by a Bulldog player since Holley took over the helm. First-year pitcher Matt Crow (Lake Elsinore, CA) put together two solid innings of relief while fanning three and allowing no runs in game two, as Jones produced a one-hitter over seven innings for the win in the series finale.
After topping Middlebury College (VT), the Maroon and Gray took two of three from CMS. The opener included a pair of three-run frames that provided the difference in the 7-3 final score. Hall and Gardiner blasted RBI-doubles in the opener, while Aguilar fired off a 4-for-4 showing with three RBI in the second triumph.
The month of April began with the Bulldogs battling the University of La Verne in a high-quality series that unfortunately yielded only one win for Redlands. During the Saturday doubleheader, Babbitt stole the show for the Maroon and Gray by going 5-for-10 at the plate with one double, one triple, two runs scored, and five RBI.
With their eyes still on the SCIAC prize, the Bulldogs orchestrated yet another impressive streak of eight consecutive wins, including two shutouts against Occidental College. Minjarez struck out eight batters in the 10-0 thrashing against the Tigers, while Stead retired 11 in the 8-0 decision.
During the final series of the regular season, Redlands faced a must-sweep scenario against Pomona-Pitzer Colleges in order to capture a share of the conference title, assuming La Verne also swept its final opponent. Despite the obvious pressure, the Maroon and Gray welcomed the challenge and successfully captured three wins over the Sagehens by scores of 12-4, 8-3, and 7-3. Overall, the team knocked 27 hits, including seven doubles, one triple, and one home run during the series. Prior to the Saturday doubleheader, the team honored its 10 seniors and then handed the pearl to Stead, who improved his record to 8-0 on the season with a seven-inning, two-hit, four-strikeout effort. In addition, Hall reset the school record for stolen bases in a season with a remarkable 30.
This exciting stretch of victories put Redlands in prime position heading into the SCIAC Postseason Tournament as the No. 2 seed. With great momentum, Redlands kept things rolling with a pair of wins against Chapman and the University of La Verne in tournament action.
In a lop-sided 13-6 victory in the opening game of the tournament, the Bulldogs built a 13-1 advantage over the Panthers through eight innings. The Panthers caught fire with five runs to cut the deficit to seven, but it wasn't enough to defeat the Maroon and Gray. Minjarez did most of the work on the mound, pitching 7.2 innings while recording nine strikeouts to earn the decision. Aguilar offered a huge game with five RBI at the plate and an acrobatic catch for a huge defensive effort. Senior infielder Nick Ono (Yorba Linda, CA) provided a solid game with three runs scored, which are the most he has produced in a single game since his sophomore season.
In the semi-finals against the top-seeded Leopards of La Verne, Redlands imposed its will with a 10-3 victory to punch its ticket into the SCIAC Tournament Championship for the second year in a row. The Maroon and Gray scored twice in the first and never looked back. Stead was at the helm for much of the contest and produced five strikeouts. Hall took advantage of most of his at-bats with three hits and three runs on five attempts. Aguilar also had another strong game with two runs and three RBI.
Unfortunately, the season took a heartbreaking turn in the championship series, where the Bulldogs fell twice to Chapman the following day.
With the hope of a possible at-large bid, the Bulldogs remained optimistic that their season would continue. Eight days later, the Maroon and Gray received word that it had earned a place in the NCAA Division III Championships for the first time since 2011 and the second time since 2006.
Day one of the West Regional Championships pit the No. 2-seeded Bulldogs against No. 5 University of Texas-Dallas in Spokane, WA, in a rematch against the Comets from earlier this season. Runs were at a premium, as both starting pitchers only gave up one apiece. After both teams switched pitchers heading into the 10th inning, the Comets got the upper hand with two runs to advance in the tournament.
In what proved to be the final game of the season, Redlands took on top-seeded Chapman and SCIAC foe the ensuing day in the teams' elimination game. After erasing a two-run deficit in the top of the third to take the lead, the Panthers scored another two to knot the game at 4-4. Momentum shifted right back in the hands of the Bulldogs with a run to take the lead in the fourth, but Chapman once again answered the call with two runs in the bottom of the fifth for a slight 6-5 advantage. Neither team gave up a run for the remainder of the game, sending the Bulldogs home after a stellar season.
Despite coming up short in the NCAA tournament, the Maroon and Gray earned plenty of accomplishments to celebrate. After beginning the season unranked, the Bulldogs moved all the way up to No. 10 in the national rankings. The squad was also viewed as one of the best in the SCIAC with eight All-Conference honorees, which is the most since 2015. In addition, the Bulldogs led the selections amongst all other SCIAC institutions. Highlighting a talented core, Gardiner and Stead were tabbed with the SCIAC Player of the Year and SCIAC Pitcher of the Year awards, respectively. This is the second year in a row that Redlands' was home to the Pitcher of the Year. Along with Gardiner and Stead, both Aguilar and Singh each found a spot as First-Team members. Hall and Kabeary landed on the Second Team, while Ono was Redlands' All-Sportsmanship Team representative.
The accolades didn't end there, with six Bulldogs making it on the D3baseball.com All-West Region Teams. This number was also the most recipients of any other school in the West. Singh, Gardiner, and Stead all made the First Team, while Aguilar and Minjarez each landed on the Second Team. Hall rounded out the honorees with his first All-Region recognition on the Third-Team. Redlands was also well represented among the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA)/Rawlings All-West Region awards. Gardiner headlined the group as the 2018 West Region Position Player of the Year for his outstanding performance at third base this season. Aguilar, Singh, Stead, and Hall all joined Gardiner on the First Team, while Minjarez grabbed a spot on the Third Team. Finally, ABCA/Rawlings and D3baseball.com named Gardiner and Singh to the All-America Second Team. Out of nearly 400 student-athletes among the ABCA/Rawlings All-Region Teams, only 50 garnered All-America status. Redlands is also the only school in the SCIAC to have an All-American. The ABCA then went on to name Singh as the NCAA Division III Gold Glove Shortstop.
As an excellent representation of the type of baseball player that is developed at Redlands, both Aguilar and Minjarez took their talents to the San Diego Padres. Aguilar was selected in the 2018 MLB draft in the 33rd round, which marks the first draft pick from Redlands since Tim Bennett in 1995. Soon after, Minjarez signed on the dotted line with the Padres as a post-draft free agent.
After an amazing campaign that yielded excellent results, the Bulldogs look to capitalize with another dominant season next year. This will not be an easy feat with the graduated class, but the Maroon and Gray hold fast to building on the Bulldogs' baseball legacy for years to come.