‘We have a very strong, calm confidence’: Baseball extends win streak to 12, maintains no. 2 ranking in the nation 

and | Senior Sports Editor and Associate Editor

Junior Andrew Huang connects with a ball against Illinois Wesleyan University in early March. The Bears’ offense has stood out to players compared to past years. (Photo courtesy of Melanie Schaefer / WashU Athletics)

Through their first eight games, the Washington University baseball team had won every game by at least four runs. Their stacked pitching staff and potent bats prevented their competition from even coming close to unsettling them. But this week, the Bears played their first set of close games, grasping narrow victories over Webster University, Wabash College and North Central College.

The four wins brought the Bears to 12-0 and helped them keep hold on the No. 2 ranking in the nation.

The Bears met their first ranked opponent of the season last Wednesday, the No. 5 Webster Gorlocks, in a match-up that had serious potential to shake up the polls. Wash. U. entered the day at 8-0. Webster entered the day at 8-1. Both teams lived up to their top-five rankings. The game was tied at 3-3 until the bottom of the 12th, when senior Collin Kahal drove a ball deep down the right field line. At first it seemed as if the Webster outfielder would catch the ball, but he had been shaded toward the gap and the ball fell in. Freshman Harry Mauterer, a pinch runner, hustled home to score the winning run for the walk-off win.

“It was still a close play at home, but we were already almost on the field by the time the ball got there,” senior pitcher Ryan Loutos said. “It was a fun moment.”

[Pitchers of recent years: our story on Loutos, Matt Ashbaugh and John Howard]

The Bears next went on the road Saturday to take on Wabash. The first game was a pitching masterclass. Loutos carried a no-hitter into the bottom of the eighth inning and held the Little Giants to just one hit on the day, a run-scoring double with two outs in the eighth. Wash. U. tacked on four runs in the top of the 9th to make the game 7-1, where the score ultimately stayed. 

The second game was a closer contest. Wash. U. jumped out to a 6-2 lead after four innings, but Wabash cut the deficit with three runs in the bottom of the fifth. Senior Henry Singer scored off a wild pitch in the sixth to push the lead back to 7-5, but Wabash returned the favor by scoring off a failed pickoff attempt in the same inning. In the seventh inning, Wabash left the tying run on base after retiring Wash. U. in three batters. Senior Jared Fong closed the final few innings, drawing three straight ground outs in the eighth before tossing a 1-2-3 ninth to seal the game, 7-6.

After surviving their doubleheader against Wabash, it was off to Normal, Ill., to take on No. 7 North Central. The Bears racked up a couple hits in the early innings, but it was North Central who managed to get on the scoreboard first, notching two runs in the fourth inning. Down 2-0, Wash. U. trailed for an incredibly rare moment in the season. But at the top of the seventh, the Red and Green erupted for four runs to take the lead. North Central returned the favor with a run in the bottom of the inning, but they couldn’t convert another opportunity at the plate into the tying run and they fell 4-3.

“We haven’t really missed a step with our pitching and our hitting is honestly just way better than it’s been in the past,” Loutos said. He noticed a difference in the team’s scrimmages before the season had started.  In past years, the Bears’ pitchers had dominated in simulated games and other practices. This year, though, that was not the case.

“For the first time since I’ve been here, the offense was taking the upper hand,” junior Tim Van Kirk recalled of the early season practices. “Even having not seen live pitching for a while, they were able to put pretty good swings to the ball.”

The Bears will have to put more good swings on the ball this weekend to keep the winning streak alive, as they have a doubleheader scheduled for Friday against another top-five team, No. 5 Aurora College. Loutos did not seem worried, though. “This year, this team is just experienced on another level,” he said. “We have a very strong, calm confidence.”

More on baseball from the StudLife sports desk:

How WU baseball prepped one Bear to work for Cori Bush

The unlikely return of baseball glory

After season comes to an abrupt end, baseball seniors depart with increased appreciation for their time as Bears

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