TWIN FALLS — At this time last year, the College of Southern Idaho baseball team won the first game of a four-game series at Utah State University Eastern. It lost the final three games of the series and went 2-3 to close the season, finishing with a 20-27 overall record.
On Friday, CSI hosted USU Eastern to begin a four-game series. It won the first game 4-1 and the second 8-1 to extend their winning streak to 10 and improve to 20-6 in Scenic West Athletic Conference play. Overall, CSI is 40-8.
The doubled improvement is difficult to explain. Last season’s team didn’t lack good players. In fact, the 2017 squad had more talent than than this year’s, according to CSI sophomore pitcher Dylan Steen.
Last year, CSI sent Alex Perron to BYU, Jordan Freese to Morehead State, Justin Mannens to UC Riverside, Tyler Rosas to Dixie State and both Ryan Beard and Alec West-Guillen to Purdue. So far this year, only three players, all pitchers, have signed with four-year colleges: Trent Bixby (Northern Colorado), Mason Foltz (Dixie State) and Colton Westfall (Lewis-Clark State).
“All of the sophomores, they were just trying to move on to wherever they wanted to move on,” Steen said of last year’s roster. “I didn’t think we were really in as a team.”
The 2018 team has made up for its talent drop with better chemistry, said Steen and freshman outfielder Hayden Leatham.
“The camaraderie on this team is like no other team I’ve been on before,” Leatham said. “The coaches expect a lot from us, and we expect a lot from ourselves.”
The togetherness was on display Friday at Skip Walker Field. Nine of CSI’s players sported bleached blonde hair, meant to be a “slump-buster,” Leatham said.
Leatham went 5-for-27 (.185) at the plate over a eighth-game stretch this month, and his new hairdo apparently worked. The Rexburg native has gone 8-for-14 (.571) since the eighth game of that slump, with two home runs, a triple and three doubles. His .373 batting average, .657 slugging percentage and six home runs on the season are team-bests, and his .436 on-base percentage is near the top.
Leatham, the reigning SWAC player of the week, went 2-for-3 with a double in Friday’s first game and 2-for-4 with a triple, a double and a walk in the second.
CSI third baseman Shawn Grandmont also hit a two-run home run in the second game, while second baseman David Hudleson went 2-for-4 with a walk and designated hitter Nick Dolce went 1-for-1 with a double and three walks.
While the bats showed up, pitching ruled the day for CSI. Steen, the most recent SWAC pitcher of the week, pitched all seven innings in the first game and allowed one unearned run on seven hits and one walk with eight strikeouts.
“I’m just wanna win (SWAC) pitcher of the year really bad,” Steen said. “It’s motivated me. I know that if I can win pitcher of the year this year, I should get a good (four-year college) offer.”
In game two, Foltz went 8 1/3 innings, allowing one earned run on eight hits and a walk with six strikeouts and a hit batsman.
Freshmen such as Leatham and Hudleson have given CSI a major lift, as have sophomores like Steen, Foltz and Grandmont who have improved and/or seen more playing time compared to last season.
But a handful of breakout players can only account for so many wins. From Steen’s perspective, less visible forces have propelled CSI to the top of the SWAC standings with a week left in the regular season.
“I’m not gonna lie, at the beginning of the year, I didn’t think we were gonna be very good,” Steen said. “We just are playing as a team. We’re not trying to do anything individually. We’re just out here to win, honestly. That’s all we care about this year.”
CSI, ranked No. 19 in the NJCAA Division I poll, will go for a sweep of USU Eastern (22-25, 14-15) on Saturday back at Skip Walker Field. CSI will conclude the regular season at the College of Southern Nevada next week.
Two losses or fewer over the final six games (and/or at least one loss from Salt Lake Community College) will secure the top seed for CSI in the Region 18 tournament. CSI will host the tournament if it finishes No. 1 in the conference standings.
CSI softball loses twice on walkoffs
PRICE, Utah — The CSI softball team lost both halves of Friday’s doubleheader at USU Eastern — both by the score of 3-2, both on walkoff home runs.
In game one, CSI took a 1-0 lead in the first inning and held on until the sixth, when USU Eastern’s Avery Blackhurst hit a solo home run. CSI retook the lead in the top of the seventh, but with two outs in the bottom half, Carlye Levy hit a single. The next batter, Ashley Sweat, hit a home run off of Stefani Zimmerman to end it.
In game two, Melanie Groenewegen and Anjalee Batchelor hit back-to-back homers in the top of the sixth inning to give CSI a 2-0 lead, which held until the bottom of the seventh. Kamryn Grover hit the leadoff batter and was immediately relieved by Hadlie Henderson. The first batter she faced, Madison Blauer, blasted a game-tying two-run home run. The next batter, McKenzie Dorney, hit a walkoff homer.
Eighth-ranked CSI (40-10, 28-6) will conclude the SWAC series at USU Eastern (23-21, 18-16) on Saturday. CSI has a one-game lead over Salt Lake CC in the conference standings.