Pomona-Pitzer defies expectations, makes first CWS appearance in school history

Pomona-Pitzer baseball players repeated a mantra — “This is for Cleveland” — after every early-morning weightlifting session and practice as they prepared for the 2024 season.

The team that never was a factor in the Division III College World Series in Cleveland wasn’t afraid to set big goals.

A few months later, the Sagehens are somehow five wins from finishing the greatest season in school history.

No. 4 seed Pomona-Pitzer (37-12) touched down in Cleveland on Tuesday afternoon. The team is gearing up for its first College World Series matchup in school history, facing off against No. 5 seed Misericordia University on Friday at 7 a.m. PDT.

“We always go into the season to get to the World Series and play for the national championship, and it’s really difficult to do,” Sagehens coach Frank Pericolosi said.

Gregg Popovich once coached the basketball team at the academically focused liberal arts school in Claremont, but the baseball team has no comparable Major League Baseball ties. With a history of limited success, especially in the postseason, doubts lingered about what the Sagehens would accomplish before the season started.

The Sagehens, coming off a 21-19 record last season, were projected to finish fourth in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference this season by league coaches.

But this season has been full of firsts for Pomona-Pitzer.

The Sagehens claimed their first SCIAC tournament win in school history and their first league championship since winning back-to-back in 2009 and 2010.

The team faltered against Willamette in the first game of their NCAA Regional, amplifying doubts about potential postseason success.

However, Pomona-Pitzer took the next three games of the series to advance to the super regionals for the first time in program history. The Sagehens then swept the super regionals with wins over East Texas Baptist University.

The team is riding a hot streak going into the CWS after dominating opponents in the last five games, averaging 11.8 runs per game.

Pericolosi sees Pomona-Pitzer as a well-balanced team with a high-powered pitching staff and bullpen and consistent hitters throughout the lineup all season.

“We’re good in all phases,” Pericolosi said. “Our starting pitching is really good, and we have a competitive offensive up and down the lineup.”

On the mound, the team is led by SCIAC Pitcher of the Year Jake Hilton, Hannoh Seo and Eric Prough, all with sub-3.00 ERAs and 50 or more strikeouts each. The team is tied for fourth in the nation with seven shutouts and 14th with 9.5 strikeouts per nine innings.

“We have some of the best starters in the nation,” Prough said. “These past two years, we’ve focused on building a great team culture. … It’s culminated into a really fun and fantastic season.”

The Sagehens boast one of the top lineups in D-III baseball, spearheaded by SCIAC Athlete of the Year and 2024 second-team All-American senior first baseman Isaac Kim, alongside third-team All-American outfielder JC Ng. The team is ranked sixth in on-base percentage (.441), tied for seventh in home runs (62) and ninth in runs (434) nationally.

“What set us apart this year is we played together as a team,” Kim said. “That belief was there from Day 1.”

Kim ranks among the top hitters in Division III, placing second in RBIs (79), eighth in slugging percentage (.856) and 11th in batting average (.443) and 12th in home runs (17).

Kim attributes his success to shifting away from a result-oriented approach. He says he was fixated more on stats in the past, but this season he focused on contributing to the team’s overall success, which resulted in him leading Pomona-Pitzer in most offensive categories.

“I put the team ahead of me, and that’s when I really started becoming successful,” Kim said.

This series will be Kim’s last as a Sagehen after he committed to UC Santa Barbara over an opportunity to play for Washington. He will spend his final year of eligibility there, hoping to continue his baseball career beyond college.

Prough also sees this as his last ride with the team and in baseball unless he finds the right opportunity. He said the chance to win a national championship in his last game as a Sagehen would be magical.

“I’d be super happy with my career if it ends after winning the College World Series,” Prough said.

In Friday’s matchup, Pericolosi will manage in the CWS for the first time in his 21 years at Pomona-Pitzer, a place he holds dear. While he wants his players to fully experience every moment of competing for a national championship, they are fired up about a chance to win it all for him.

“Coach P has been here for so long, and I really want to get in this ring,” Kim said. “It would mean a lot for us to do that for him.”

Prough added that Pericolosi has heavily contributed to the university and the athletic department, and it is huge to see him cherish the moments of finally reaching the CWS.

The players say reaching the CWS remains unbelievable, and the locker room is abuzz with excitement and anxiety. Nevertheless, their confidence level remains at an all-time high.

“These teams are going to take us lightly because it’s our first time,” Kim said. “They might think it’s luck, but we know it’s not luck. We know we put in the work, and our confidence is high.”

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top