SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – There really is no other way to describe the regular season for Menlo College Baseball other than crazy. The Oaks were the sixth ranked team in the nation early on, and got that high in the rankings without playing a single home game. As the season has been winding down, they have fallen out of the top-25 completely, still haven't had a true home game, and continue to be the most potent offense in the nation, in terms of home runs. They may not have scored a ton of runs on Friday, but their hard work paid off as Menlo clinched a playoff spot as part of a doubleheader split against Westmont College on Friday. Menlo is now 33-16 (17-11), while Westmont is now 27-21 (12-15).
The Oaks had a nice season against Westmont before game one started, as Menlo won the first two meetings of the season in one-run fashion. Game one of the doubleheader, and the designated home game for Menlo College, did match what we saw the first two times these teams met. Westmont flexed their muscles with extra base hits early and often in game one against Menlo starting pitcher Jason Alexander. The senior entered the day 8-1 on the season, but Westmont cracked a "one" in the run column in the top of the second inning. Consecutive singles to open up the inning for Westmont got things started, and after a sacrifice bunt moved both runners up, Alexander allowed a wild pitch to score the runner from third and give Westmont the very early 1-0 lead. They would stretch this lead to three with a pair of runs in the top of the fourth. A leadoff walk was followed by a one-out double, giving Westmont a 2-0 edge. After another walk allowed by Alexander, he succumbed another double to the Westmont offense, and the Warriors were firmly in command.
After Alexander was pulled in the middle of the fifth, Menlo tried to back up their bullpen, specifically Marcus Fukuhara, who took over and got an inning-ending groundout in the fifth. Nick Quejado led off the bottom half of the fifth with a single to left center field, and he moved up to second. With one out, Joe Gillette smacked a home run to left field, his 14th of the season. With one swing of the bat, the Oaks were back in this game, down just one run, 3-2.
Westmont made sure Menlo didn't feel too energized about being back in the game for long. Kevin George came in to pitch for Menlo, and that's when things began to unravel. He allowed a leadoff walk, and then on a sacrifice bunt attempt, everybody was safe after a misplay by George. Both runners moved up ninety feet on a passed ball, and still with nobody out, George allowed a three-run home run for the only hit of the inning, but it was a big one. Suddenly, the Warriors were up 6-2, and they wound up tacking on three more runs in the top of the seventh to close out the 9-2 win. Gillette was a bright spot for Menlo, going 3-4 with the two-run homer. Reed Kienle, Sam Morgan, and Quejado added the other hits for Menlo.
Game two of the doubleheader featured the traditional nine inning game that would have been played first under normal doubleheader regulations. This was not the case on Friday, with Menlo now becoming the visitors and the Warriors becoming the home team. This time around, Menlo struck first, though they had to wait until the third inning to get on the board. Senior outfielder Nick Quejado got things rolling for Menlo in a familiar fashion for this team: a home run. Just as they did in game one, the Oaks scored their first runs on a bomb from Quejado in the third inning, and Menlo held a 1-0 lead. Westmont got that run back in the bottom of the fourth inning off Menlo starting pitcher Brett Solano, who was solid during the first three innings. His fourth inning was nothing shaky, either: he got the first two batters out in the frame. He allowed a two-out double to get things going for Westmont, and an error on Julian Jarrard to the following hitter allowed the Warriors to tie the game at 1-1.
Kama Eldredge and the Oaks would not let this tie game last for long, and Eldredge got the top of the fifth started after getting hit by a pitch. He then proceeded to steal second and take third on a single from Quejado. With the top of the order up, Jordan Getzelman bounced out to third, but it scored Eldredge from that spot and the Oaks took a 2-1 lead. Jarrard followed with a bounce out of his own, and it scored Quejado. Tack on a solo shot from Jarrard later in the game (top of the eighth), and Menlo was in front by a comfy margin of 4-1.
The Oaks simply did not need any more offense with Solano on the mound, as he tossed a nine-inning complete game, his first nine-inning complete game of the season. He was simply masterful on this day, allowing just four hits, the one unearned run, one walk, and five strikeouts. Six innings he faced just three hitters, and was able to cruise through nine innings without having many high stress innings. As a matter of fact, the Warriors never got a runner on base against Solano with fewer than two outs in the inning. Solano now has his record sitting at a perfect 9-0 after picking up the win.
Menlo clinched a playoff spot with the victory in game two, meaning they will be one of the five teams in the GSAC playoffs when Menlo hosts the tournament starting May 7th. The Oaks are just one game behind Biola and Vanguard for the top spot in the conference, but could also fall down to the fifth spot depending on the final day of the regular season, which is Saturday. Menlo wraps up conference play with a doubleheader at Westmont tomorrow.