Baseball competes in NAIA weekend tournament to start season

Written By Mason Strawn, Co-Sports Editor

The Point Park baseball team made a road trip down south last weekend to start off their season, heading to the much warmer Big League Camp Complex in Marion, North Carolina, to compete in the Battle at Big League Camp. The Pioneers played four games across Saturday and Sunday (Feb. 20-21), winning three out of four during the competition, with each team being an NAIA team outside of the River State Conference. The team won’t play again until this weekend, when they travel even further south to Auburndale, Florida to compete in the RussMatt Central Florida Invitational. 

The Pioneers went on to play two games on Saturday, Feb. 20, defeating the Cumberland University Phoenix 2-1 in extra innings in their first game and falling to number 8 ranked University of the Cumberlands Patriots 11-5. The Pioneers  won game one thanks to the bat of junior outfielder Ed Pfluger, who crushed a go-ahead solo home run in the top of the eighth to keep Point Park ahead. Pfluger also scored the first run of the ball game earlier in the matchup, scoring on a sac fly by sophomore first baseman Ty Andrews after hitting a single earlier in the top of the sixth, and was able to advance all the way to third due to an error by the Phoenix pitcher. The Pioneers  only totaled four hits in the game, with three coming from Pfluger alone, but senior starting pitcher Marco Quintanar and senior reliever Ruben Ramirez were able to shut the Phoenix down, allowing five hits between the two of them, as well as striking out nine. 

“The energy was up the whole game, so when I came up, I knew I just needed to put the ball in play,” Pfluger said. “I ended up hitting it out, and everyone got excited, allowing Ruben to close the game out.” 

In game two against the Patriots, Point Park was able to score first in the top of the first inning, but the Patriots  shelled junior starter Luis Mujica in the second and third inning, giving up seven runs in 2.1 innings of work, while Jonathon Pacheco  relieved him for the rest of the third and give up four runs. Sophomore Easton Klien was a bright spot on the pitching card, going three innings and giving up zero runs, and only allowing two hits.

The Pioneers had two more games to go on Sunday, Feb. 21, defeating both the University of Northwestern Ohio Racers 7-6 and the Cumberland Phoenix again 8-4. Cumberland struck first in the second game, with the Phoenix scoring three in the top of the second inning off of two home runs. 

The Pioneers responded right back in the bottom of the second, scoring their own three runs off of an error and a single off the bat of Mujica, who was playing catcher. Senior infielder Antonio Carillo brought around two more runs with a double in the bottom of the fourth and chased Cumberland’s starting pitcher from the game after two more  scored off of wild pitches in the same inning. 

Point Park once again was out-hit by the Phoenix, 7-8, but was able to keep Cumberland down thanks again to the Point Park pitching staff. Senior Christian Negron gave up four runs and seven hits in 4.1 innings of work, but was able to strike out six and minimize the damage to give him the win. Ramirez then came in again to shut down the Phoenix, going 2.2 innings while giving up one hit and striking out four.

The Pioneers will head back to the much warmer Auburndale, Florida, this weekend, where they will compete in the RussMatt Central Florida Invitational- the same competition the team competed in last season before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States in full. 

“This is the time of the season where we actually apply everything we have practiced during the fall and pre-season,” Mujica said. “It just helps to keep on building up the chemistry our team has and creating that wave of momentum we want to have before the conference games start.” 

The games will begin on Friday, Feb. 26, and last until Sunday, Feb. 28. The boys will start on Friday with a doubleheader against Spring Arbor University and Trinity Baptist University at one and four p.m. Saturday will be another doubleheader, facing off against TBU again at 12 p.m. and then immediately after

Their final game will be on Sunday, facing off against number-one-ranked South Eastern University at 12 p.m. More information is posted on the RussMatt tournament website, including how to stream the games on mobile devices.