Westmont Baseball (43-11) opened play on Monday in the NAIA Opening Round Tournament – Santa Barbara Bracket with a 6-0 victory over Pioneers of Antelope Valley (37-12). With the win, the Warriors advanced to take on the Grenadiers of Indiana Southeast (40-13), who defeated the Tigers of Olivet Nazarene (38-16) by a score of 22-4.
Freshman Bryan Peck took the hill for the Warriors and produced eight scoreless innings of work. Peck allowed just four hits, struck out six and walked one.
“I cannot say enough about Bryan Peck and the competitor he has been all year for this team,” said Westmont head coach Robert Ruiz. “To step into the first game of the opening round and pitch with that kind of poise and demeanor – there are really not a lot of words that can sum up what he has accomplished so far this year and what he means to this team.
“He preserved our bullpen against a really good Antelope Valley team. He pitched out of some jams and from behind at times. He made pitches and stayed off some barrels. It was just fantastic.
“As a coach, you hope your guys show up focused, confident and ready to play their brand of baseball. He did every bit of that and then some. It was a spectacular performance against a team that won their league and their conference tournament. To have a freshman give us that kind of an outing puts this team in a really good place and says a lot about who he is as a competitor.”
Offensively, Westmont struck early, giving Peck a margin of comfortability to work with. With one away in the bottom of the first, Brady Ranke ripped a single into right field. Then, with a hit-and-run called by Ruiz, Simon Reid singled to left, advancing Ranke to third. Thomas Rudinsky drove in the Warriors’ first run with a single through the right side.
When Josh Rego worked the count to earn his 18th walk of the season, the Warriors had the bases loaded. A fielder’s choice resulted in the second out with a force out at the plate before Justin Rodriguez singled to left to drive in Rudinsky and increase the Warrior lead to 2-0.
“I loved the aggressive approach early in the game,” expressed Ruiz. “We got one of their better starters and we knew he was going to come after us and land a couple of different pitches for strikes. We were trying to be disciplined in the strike zone, but not passive or defensive.
“For us to be able to score first in our first game of the tournament takes a little bit of the weight off our shoulders offensively. You start to play looser and not press. We came out swinging the way we expect our guys to do and the way we want to play.”
As it turned out, the first innings provided more than enough runs for a Warrior win. However, Westmont was not done. Robbie Haw crushed a ball over the left field fence in the bottom of the fourth for a two-run homer that doubled the Warrior lead. Then in the eighth Simon Reid drove a ball over the batting cage beyond the right field fence for another two-run dinger.
“If you are going to win games this time of year, you need someone to have a magic moment and step up in a big situation. Both of those guys did. Those were game-changing at bats that let you breathe a little easier.”
Peck was awarded the win, improving to 7-3 on the season with an ERA of 3.10. Carlos Moreno pitched the ninth for Westmont. After giving up a lead-off walk, Moreno recorded an out on each of the next three plate appearances to close out the game.
The Warriors’ victory was the 43rd of the season, a mark that no other team in Westmont history has achieved.
“It is interesting because it is a special accomplishment,” said Ruiz. “The record of 42 was set by a team (in 2016) that I had the opportunity to coach. I am so proud of our guys and how hard they’ve worked to accomplish things this season. Right now, however, the only thing we are focused on is getting out of this tournament and on to the next one.
Ron Smith is the sports information director at Westmont College.