PLNU advanced to its first ever NCAA Division II World Series and left as national runner-up, coming home with a record- breaking 51-10 record. The Sea Lions were the first current PacWest team to reach the national championship game as well as the first to eclipse 50 wins in a single season.
Point Loma finished its postseason with an 8-3 record, winning the NCAA West Regional, the NCAA West Super Regional Championship Series, and the top half of the eight-team
bracket at the NCAA World Series to advance to the National Championship game in the most successful season by a PacWest team in conference history.
A Fairytale Season
One of the most impressive things about this year’s record- setting season is that it followed a season in which the team struggled. This year’s 51 wins followed last year’s 11 (which was a bit skewed, since the season was essentially cut in half due to COVID-19 with all of the Sea Lions games coming against five highly ranked Southern California schools).
“We played one of the toughest schedules in the entire country for 30 straight games last year,” said head coach Justin James. “These guys grinded through that, and this is what happens when you come out on the other side, don’t complain, and just learn. This is the same team as last year, just a year older.”
““We played one of the toughest schedules in the entire country for 30 straight games last year. These guys grinded through that, and this is what happens when you come out on the other side, don’t complain, and just learn. This is the same team as last year, just a year older.”
Contenders to the End
The Sea Lions won their half of the national championship bracket with a 2-0 win over Rollins the morning of June 10. They had to turn around to face the top seed North Greenville Crusaders, who had yet to be defeated in the tournament, the same evening due to an unexpected schedule change to account for pending weather the next day. Point Loma finished second in the nation following a 5-3 loss to the Crusaders.
The Sea Lions outhit North Greenville 10-8, but the Crusader pitchers recorded 16 strikeouts to get out of several jams and strand eleven PLNU runners on base. Each of the top-4 batters in the Sea Lions’ lineup recorded multiple hits.
Jack Gonzales got the start on the mound on just three days of rest, and he allowed just one earned run in four innings of work as well as one unearned run. In the fourth inning, the bases were loaded with two outs as the Crusaders looked to add to their
2-0 lead. North Greenville’s Ethan Stringer lifted a ball down the left field line that would have scored at least two runs, but Jack Malone flew in for a diving catch to end the inning with a highlight reel play. The play actually landed as the #2 play in the world of sports on ESPN’s Top Ten list the next day.
“Honestly, I can’t remember much of making the catch,” Malone said. “It was just instincts. It was really exciting to make the play and celebrate with my teammates afterwards. My coaches put me in a good spot to make the play. We take a lot of pride in defense. We know that winning games comes down to pitching and defense.”
The momentum and energy of that play in the field led to some quick success at the plate as Otto Kemp hit a leadoff home run to get Point Loma on the board. It was his 17th home run of the season and made him a perfect 61 for 61 in reaching base at least once every game this season.
“I try not to think about it,” Kemp said about the streak. “Something that we have done a lot of work on is just the mental approach to hitting. Baseball is the hardest game in the world. It’s a game of failure, but I think that one of the things we pride ourselves on is that it is a competition between you and the pitcher. I try to go up there with a mindset of ‘this guy is not going to beat me.’”
PLNU’s Nathan Garkow entered the game in relief and put two zeros on the board to keep Point Loma within one run of the Crusaders. Then in the seventh inning, North Greenville used small ball to take advantage of a leadoff single, resulting in a pair of insurance runs that proved to be crucial later in the game. The Crusaders then made the lead 5-1 with three outs to go in the eighth inning on a walk, stolen base, and RBI-single.
Kemp led off the ninth inning with his sixth hit of the day after having gone 4-for-4 in the earlier game. Then senior Baxter Halligan pulled a no-doubter over the right field wall and into the scoreboard to cut the deficit in half. That gave Kemp his 76th run of the season, adding to his PacWest single-season record.
“I knew that was going to be my last at-bat of the game,” Halligan said. “He threw a lot of sliders, and they had been throwing me breaking pitches all day, so I was looking for a slider and just trying to put a good swing on it.”
That ended up being as close as Point Loma got with the next two batters being retired to end the game, making North Greenville the national champion.
Also notable was Hunter Otjen’s performance. He went 2-for-4 with a walk for the Sea Lions and also pitched one inning in relief, striking out a pair of batters.
“The support from Point Loma baseball players from decades ago that were streaming the games from the beach or at work was incredible,” James said. “I got so many emails of support that I couldn’t get any work done.”
“The support from Point Loma baseball players from decades ago that were streaming the games from the beach or at work was incredible. I got so many emails of support that I couldn’t get any work done.”
The PLNU baseball team is the second team from Point Loma to reach a national championship game, joining the 2019 men’s basketball team, which also finished runner-up. Members of the PLNU community welcomed the baseball team back from Cary, North Carolina, with festivities in the gym, and a few days later, the team was honored at a San Diego Padres baseball game.
Four Sea Lions were named to the 2022 NCAA Championship All-Tournament Team: catcher Easton Waterman, shortstop Scott Anderson, outfielder Jack Malone, and pitcher/designated hitter Baxter Halligan.
This season was full of record-setting performances by the Sea Lions. On the mound, Halligan broke PacWest records with 12 wins and 111 strikeouts, while maintaining a 2.25 ERA.
Kemp broke the PacWest record for runs scored in a season with 71 as the Sea Lions’ leadoff hitter.
Pitcher Zach Veen struck out 59 batters on the season while walking only three, for an incredible 20:1 K/BB ratio. Veen actually had 52 strikeouts before he walked his first batter of the season. Opposing hitters had a .133 batting average against him and his ERA was a minuscule 1.29.
Closer Cole Hillier also had a record-breaking season, setting a new PacWest record for saves in a season with 15. He didn’t blow a save opportunity all season and finished the regular season with a 1.37 ERA.
Point Loma is the first active PacWest team to have qualified for the NCAA National Championships.
Honors and Awards
Justin James was named both the PacWest and the NCBWA West-Region Coach of the Year after leading the Sea Lions to 43 regular season wins. Under his leadership, PLNU led the nation in ERA, WHIP, and fielding percentage.
In the PacWest, senior Baxter Halligan earned both the Pitcher and Player of the Year Awards. His legendary season was cemented in Point Loma and PacWest lore after he tied the conference record for wins as a pitcher while being one of the most feared sluggers in the league. Halligan also landed on the 1st Team All-PacWest in the dual roles of designated hitter and pitcher. Shortstop Scott Anderson was named the PacWest Defensive Player of the Year, and first baseman Jakob Christian earned Freshman of the Year honors. Christian and Halligan were joined by third baseman Otto Kemp and reliever Cole Hillier as 1st Team All PacWest selection. Four more Sea Lions earned 2nd Team All PacWest honors: outfielder Izayah Alvarez and pitchers Jack Gonzales, Dylan Miller, and Zachary Veen. Senior Jason DuMont was named to the 3rd Team All PacWest.
Meanwhile, the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) selected Halligan as West Region Pitcher of the Year. He was joined on the First Team All-West Region by his teammates Cole Hillier and Otto Kemp, while Veen earned second-team honors.
When it comes to national honors, Halligan and Hillier were named to the ABCA/Rawlings All Region First Team with Veen making the second team. Halligan was also first team and Veen second team Conference Commissioners Association (CCA) All-Americans. Gonzalez was named to the first team COSIDA Academic All-America Team with a 3.97 GPA. Halligan earned second team honors with a 3.70 GPA.
Gonzalez and Miller both threw complete game no-hitters once each this season. Each earned NCAA DII National Pitcher of the Week for the feat.
Halligan, Kemp, and Hillier were also named to the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) first team, and Christian was named to the second team. Halligan was the pitcher and player of the year for the NCBWA.
Baxter Halligan and Zach Veen were named to the Division II Conference Commissioner Association (D2CCA) Baseball All- American Team.
Halligan and Cole Hillier were named to the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) All-American second team. Halligan was actually named to the team twice, both as a pitcher and as a hitter.
Halligan and Hillier were also both named first team All- Americans by the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA).
Please join us in congratulating the 2022 Sea Lion baseball team on their outstanding accomplishments!