CPP baseball starts season with hot bats, takes opening series over APU

By Ryan Ramirez, Feb. 20, 2024

Cal Poly Pomona’s baseball team kicked off its 2024 season with two doubleheaders against Azusa Pacific University Friday, Feb. 2 and Saturday, Feb. 3.

While game one was a pitching duel between CPP ace and recent All-American award recipient Caleb Reyes and Azusa’s Isaac Mendez where CPP narrowly escaped with the win, the bats heated up throughout the next two games as the Broncos scored a combined 19 runs in games two and three to go up 3-0 before the Cougars answered back in game four, shutting out CPP to prevent a clean sweep.

Left fielder Jack Sanders reflected on CPP’s stellar start to the season.

“Starting off strong like this definitely helps our confidence,” said Sanders. “It shows us that all the hard work and time we’ve put in during the fall and beginning of the spring was worth it and is starting to pay off.”

Although game one was more of a pitching duel, Azusa threatened to score multiple times throughout the first few innings. In the first, the Cougars drew a walk and hit a single before Reyes struck out two batters, stranding the runners on first and third base.

In the second, Azusa again got two runners on base, but Reyes again got out of the jam and racked up two more strikeouts.

CPP’s bats started cold, with their first seven batters being retired, but the team got its first hit of the season in the bottom of the third inning with third baseman Tyler Chaffee hitting a single. However, Chaffee was stranded on base as the Broncos struggled to connect on any more hits.

The next few innings saw more of the same, with runners being stranded on base from both teams and Reyes collecting more strikeouts. This continued until the bottom of the sixth inning where Azusa made a pitching change and brought in Matthew Brock to relieve Mendez.

The Broncos found themselves with two outs in the inning when catcher Johnny Pappas drew a walk, followed by first baseman Marco Malerba hitting a single. Designated hitter Julian Angulo stepped to the plate and blasted a three-run home run to left field to put the Broncos on top 3-0.

The Cougars answered right back in the next half-inning as they collected three runs off four hits to tie the game.

In the bottom of the eighth, the Broncos converted again with two outs as Pappas hammered a home run to left field, putting CPP up 4-3.

The Broncos called upon RHP Chris Fields to close the game to hang on and win their season opener 4-3.

Game two of the series threatened another pitching duel between the two teams, with CPP’s Noel Soto collecting at least one strikeout in every inning he pitched, racking up a total of eight.

The game broke open in the bottom of the fourth inning with the Broncos converting with two outs. Angulo and Sanders drew back-to-back walks, and second baseman Darius Price doubled down the right field line, scoring the two runners.

Shortstop Nick Lugo followed up with a hit back up the diamond, scoring Price and putting CPP up 3-0.

CPP scored again in the bottom of the fifth inning after right fielder Anthony Gibbons reached on an error and scored after a single down the left field line from Malerba.

The Broncos continued their dominance in the sixth, with a single from Sanders and an error for APU, allowing Price to also get on base. Lugo then hit an RBI double, putting the Broncos up 5-0 with runners on second and third.

A sacrifice fly by third baseman Beau Betten and an RBI double from center fielder Brent Cota continued the scoring. Cota then scored on an error by APU and Gibbons scored on a wild pitch, extending the lead to 9-0.

CPP collected another run in the bottom of the seventh with Lugo getting on base and scoring off a single to right field by Cota.

The Cougars were finally able to get on the board in the top of the ninth with a two-RBI single. However, the Broncos closed the door on APU soon after with a final score of 10-2, going up 2-0 in the series.

CPP traveled up to Azusa for game three where they started the game hot at the top of the third inning with back-to-back singles from Cota and Gibbons. Consecutive RBI singles from Sanders, left fielder Luc Stuka, and third baseman Jacob Lopez, followed, scoring three runs.

Lugo also got in on the action with a double to left center, scoring Stuka and extending the lead to 4-0.

The Cougars notched some runs of their own in the bottom of the fourth, with an RBI double and RBI single, cutting the lead in half 4-2.

However, the Broncos got those runs right back in the next half inning as Malerba drew a walk and Sanders slammed a home run to left center, bringing the lead to 6-2.

“I definitely felt in the zone for those games and especially that at-bat, but I know there are still improvements to be made to take everything to the next level,” said Sanders.

Despite the home run, APU did not let the Broncos get too far ahead in the bottom of the sixth, as they drew a walk and converted on a hit, all followed by a three-run home run for catcher Carson Collett, closing the gap 6-5.

The back-and-forth battle continued in the top of the eighth inning when Lugo reached base and scored off a single to center field off the bat of Cota. Gibbons then blasted a home run to left field, extending their lead to 9-5.

Fields was called upon again in the bottom of the ninth where he allowed a walk but then struck out the next three batters to give CPP the win 9-5, threatening a series sweep.

The sweep did not come to fruition; however, as the Bronco’s bats went cold to close out the series. Game four was only played for seven innings due to the back-to-back doubleheaders.

CPP only got one hit in the game, and it came in the top of the fourth as Angulo drew a walk, advanced to second on a wild pitch and advanced to third on a single from Lopez. He got stranded, however, as Lugo lined into an inning-ending double play.

APU secured their first lead of the series in the fourth inning as first baseman Spencer Rasmussen hit a two-run home run, making the game 2-0 APU.

The Cougars put up another run in the bottom of the sixth as they drew four consecutive walks, going up 3-0. The damage was limited to just a run despite the bases being loaded as the Broncos struck out two in a row to end the inning.

In the next half inning, the Broncos drew a walk, but the bats remained cold to end the game, with APU taking the victory 3-0, but CPP taking the series win and starting their season 3-1.

“We worked all this time from the fall and got ourselves ready to play somebody else, so it was exciting to play somebody else and actually play well in the sense of the things that we wanted to execute from pitching to offense to defense and to baserunning,” said head coach Randy Betten. “Now we can get better at those as we go, but those are the four main areas we harped on this fall and it paid off, it showed up, which I was proud of.”

Feature image courtesy of CPP Athletics

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