Under the direction of fourth-year Head Coach Aaron Holley, the University of Redlands baseball team orchestrated an incredibly successful campaign that included exciting wins, plenty of accolades, and undeniable upward momentum as a high-caliber program. While living out the team's motto of "Send It Brother", the Maroon and Gray held nothing back en route to an overall record of 27-16 and a 16-8 mark in Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC). After tying for second in the regular season, the squad battled through the SCIAC Postseason Tournament for an impressive run that culminated in a quality appearance during the final game. Overall, Redlands tallied an incredible seven All-SCIAC individuals, a trio of All-West Region honorees, two All-America nods, and a Gold Glove award in a stellar season.
The Bulldogs kicked off the 2017 campaign with a split-decision doubleheader against Centenary College (LA). Junior pitcher Felix Minjarez (Riverside, CA) climbed the bump for the opening game at The Yard and recorded a strong outing by punching out eight batters in the 9-2 victory. Senior left-fielder Mitch Samson (Orangevale, CA) impressed as the lead-off hitter by going 3-for-3 with two runs and two RBI. Senior second baseman Christopher Scalisi (Woodland Hills, CA) and junior right-fielder Jordan Babbitt (Highland, CA) added five hits, five RBI, and two runs, collectively.
A week later, the Bulldogs made its way to Tucson, AZ, for the Cactus Classic, where they recorded a 2-2 showing over three days. In the second victory, junior hurler Adam Stead (Rialto, CA) recorded his first save of the season, pitching two innings of relief and striking out two in the team's 3-0 showing over Sul Ross State (TX).
After returning from Arizona, the Bulldogs unfortunately fell into a bit of a slump and dropped their next four games.
But the team jumped back into the win column with a huge SCIAC sweep over the Whittier College Poets in late February. In game one, Minjarez pitched a one-run, complete-game win while recording his first of many 10-plus strikeout games. Senior hurler John Keane (Clayton, CA) took the hill for game three and cruised through the first inning by fanning two of the three Whittier batters. Keane tossed six strong innings by striking out five total. Junior right-fielder Kyle Kabeary (Indio, CA) went 2-for-3 with a double and an RBI, while freshman first baseman Andrew Renteria (Van Nuys, CA) went 1-for-3 with four RBI. But the storied hero of the whole series was third baseman Brendan Gardiner (Mission Viejo, CA), who batted .700 with three home runs, recorded six RBI, and scored four runs.
The Bulldogs were looking to avenge their earlier losses to Chapman University when they traveled to Orange for a unique, non-conference opportunity against the Panthers under the lights at Hart Park. Despite a late push by Chapman, the Bulldogs' three-run fifth inning was enough to hold on for a 4-2 victory. Junior pitcher Noah Jones (San Bernardino, CA) fanned an incredible six batters in just four innings of work. Three more pitchers contributed before senior John White (Burbank, CA) was called in to close out the game. He struck out three in 1.1 innings of work for the save.
After dropping a tight, non-conference game to Kean University (NJ), the Bulldogs took two of three games to the eventual national champions from Cal Lutheran University. Redlands got off to a blazing start in the opener when junior catcher Rainier Aguilar (San Bernardino, CA) stepped up with runners in scoring position by driving a single up the middle for two RBI. Junior shortstop Will Hall (Seattle, WA) and Samson added to the Bulldogs' firepower with four hits and four RBI, collectively. Overall, Hall knew how to handle the Kingsmen pitchers by going 5-for-9 with two RBI over the three games. Aguilar also came up big time at the plate and the SCIAC took notice, as he was tabbed Redlands' first and only SCIAC Athlete of the Week after going 6-for-12 with seven RBI, a double, and a homerun over the series.
While taking on non-conference foes in their next six games, the Bulldogs remained on a tear with a 5-1 showing that showcased 86 hits, including a pair of single-game, 21-hit performances. In the first contest against Schreiner University (TX), freshman pitcher Michael Rishebarger (Oceanside, CA) was handed the pearl for his first win of his young Bulldog career. He struck out two in five innings of work before freshman Austin Williams (Redlands, CA) entered the game as the reliever. Williams pitched three innings and struck out two in his first save of his rookie career. Sophomore first baseman Brendan Moore (Murrieta, CA) went 3-for-5, including a pair of doubles and a triple en route to six RBI. In a total team effort, the Bulldogs stunned Schreiner by a score of 23-8.
Senior pitcher Michael Collins (Upland, CA) was tabbed the starter in the opening game against Southern Vermont College on March 18. After giving up one run in the first inning, he settled down to retire 10 of the next 11 batters while only allowing one hit and striking out three. Offensively, sophomore shortstop Aaron Singh (Anaheim, CA) launched a home run to left field for the Bulldogs' early lead en route to an 8-6 victory. In game two, Redlands put on a hitting clinic, as the home team knocked in 12 runs over the first two innings. In the midst of the scoring, junior designated hitter Joey Warner (Indio, CA) sent a triple along the right-field line for two RBI.
After a tough loss to Wesleyan College (CT), the team quickly regrouped for a sweep of the Caltech Beavers. In the final contest of the series, Keane completed a one-run, complete game that included six punch-outs.
After taking one game from the University of La Verne, the Bulldogs fired off another 5-1 run to close out the regular season. In the victory against La Verne, the teams were tied at 4-4 through six innings, when Kabeary answered the call with a single to center field to plate the go-ahead run. Redlands was also money from the mound as Minjarez, Stead, and White combined for 13 strikeouts. Stellar pitching propelled Redlands to victory over the first two games against Occidental College. Minjarez registered a 10-strikeout, eight-inning showing, while Collins pitched 8.2 innings with seven punch-outs. Before the opening game against Pomona-Pitzer Colleges, the team honored the careers of its seven seniors in Collins, Keane, Samson, Scalisi, White, center-fielder Christian Conci (San Mateo, CA), and catcher Kyle Wallau (San Mateo, CA). The Maroon and Gray kept the celebrating going with a breakout inning in the top of the fourth, as Conci stepped up with the bases loaded and uncorked a bases-clearing double. Two more base-knocks subsequently followed for a four-run lead. With Collins still on the mound and cruising through the Sagehen lineup, the Bulldog offense never looked back. Redlands put up two runs in each the fifth, sixth, and eighth innings while adding one more in the seventh.
Redlands completed its undefeated showing over the Sagehens in a dominating doubleheader by scores of 13-3 and 14-0. Wallau saved his best for last with a 4-for-4 performance that included a double, three RBI, and four runs scored. With this series sweep, the Bulldogs jumped up the standings to secure one of the top four spots in the SCIAC Postseason Tournament.
As the three-seed, the Bulldogs faced Chapman in the first round of the tournament at Hart Park in Orange. After the teams traded runs through eight solid innings, the score remained knotted at four-all, which led to an exciting final stanza. With one out in the top of the ninth, Gardiner laced a single through the right side. Singh subsequently laid down the successful sacrifice bunt to move him over to second before Gardiner advanced to third on a passed ball. With two outs, Hall struck out on a passed ball, but Gardiner snuck in from third while Hall was safe at first to put the Maroon and Gray back on top at 5-4. With Minjarez still going strong, he headed to the mound to pitch the ninth. He gave up a single but then sat the next two batters. With one out to go and a Panther runner on second, Chapman sent a single to shallow center-field. But Conci fielded it perfectly and threw a strike all the way to Aguilar, who tagged the would-be tying run for a close play at the plate for the third out and the 5-4 Bulldog victory.
The U of R baseball team then faced the Cal Lutheran Kingsmen in a battle between the SCIAC Postseason Tournament's two winning squads. While playing as the home team, the Bulldogs mustered a pair of late-game runs but it was not enough, as they fell in a tough 3-4 decision.
Immediately following the loss, Redlands quickly regrouped to square off against Chapman in an elimination game of the tournament. After snagging a close 5-4 win over the Panthers the day before, the Bulldogs broke out the bats to muscle 19 hits in a dominating 17-8 victory. With the score knotted at eight apiece, Conci led off the bottom of the sixth with a massive home run for Redlands' 9-8 advantage. After two singles, runners sat on first and third for Gardiner, who reached on an unsuccessful fielder's choice for an RBI. The Bulldogs put up one run in the seventh on a walk, a stolen base, a hit-by-pitch, and a wild pitch, but they weren't done yet. With two outs and the bases loaded, Gardiner knocked a monster grand slam to right field to give Redlands a 15-8 lead. The Maroon and Gray notched two more runs in the eighth to eventually win in monumental fashion. Conci ended the game by going 5-for-5 and scoring four runs, while Scalisi went 3-for-6 with three RBI. Gardiner registered a 2-for-5 showing with six RBI.
The team faced another opportunity against Cal Lutheran in the final of the SCIAC Postseason Tournament in Thousand Oaks. Amidst a display of grit and tenacity by both teams, the Bulldogs rallied to tie it up but ultimately fell in a tight a 2-3 decision.
The Bulldogs' success kept rolling through the postseason, as Minjarez was named the SCIAC Pitcher of the Year, as Aguilar, Collins, Singh, Scalisi, Keane, and Samson each received All-Conference nods.
But the accolades didn't stop there. Minjarez, Aguilar, and Singh represented Redlands on the D3baseball.com and American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA)/Rawlings all-region lists. In addition to earning a spot on each of the first teams, Minjarez was tabbed the D3baseball.com West Region Pitcher of the Year and ABCA/Rawlings West Region Pitcher of the Year. Aguilar grabbed a spot on each entity's second team, while Singh was named to the third teams.
Furthermore, Minjarez and Aguilar were selected to the D3baseball.com All-America squad. Minjarez was named to the Second Team, while Aguilar received an honorable mention. Immediately following that accolade, Minjarez was also named to the ABCA/Rawlings All-America Third Team to cap off his stellar third season with the Maroon and Gray.
Finally, ABCA/Rawlings released their selections for the 2017 Gold Glove teams, which included Aguilar as the Division III Gold Glove catcher.
After the completion of the 2017 season, Minjarez became the statistics champion in all of NCAA Division III baseball in wins with a 12-2 record. He also tied for sixth in strikeouts with 105. Scalisi ranks 11th in sacrifice flies, while Aguilar ranks 31st with a .424 batting average. As a team, the Bulldogs sit among the top 25 in five statistical categories, including sacrifice flies (2nd-38), batting average (16th-.330), on-base percentage (17th-0.420), fielding percentage (21st-0.968), and strikeout-to-walk ratio (21st-2.58).
Following this incredible season, the Bulldog baseball team has plenty to celebrate but eagerly looks forward to seeing what the future holds. Although replacing the veteran contributors is never an easy task, Redlands strives to build on their success, as the returning crew welcomes the chance to accelerate the program's upward climb in the SCIAC and beyond.