Baseball, on 14-game win streak to open season, remains second in the nation after sweep of No. 5 Aurora

and | Senior Sports Editors

Senior Ryan Loutos delivers a pitch against DePauw University March 20. Loutos has a 0.76 Earned Run Average through 35 1/3 innings. (Photo courtesy of Melanie Schaefer/WashU Athletics)

The Washington University baseball team yet again remained at the No. 2 spot in the nation this week after they won two games against No. 5 Aurora College Friday to extend their undefeated season. The Bears have been knocking on the door of the top spot recently with consistent wins against tough competition, such as last week’s wins against then-Nos. 5 and 7 Webster University and North Central College, but two more wins against a top five opponent on Friday did not move the rankings.

The current occupant of the top spot, Trinity University (Texas), has not lost a game since capturing the No. 1 position, but they also have yet to play a team that was at any point ranked in the top 25 this season. Given Wash. U.’s undefeated start and high-quality victories, it begins to beg the question of what it will take for the Bears to unseed Trinity and regain the No. 1 seed they occupied for a brief stint last season. 

But Wash. U. faces its most trying test yet this week with six tough games in three days, including four against No. 4 Webster. Trinity will face 8-17 Schreiner University in a three-game set. For now, the Bears can only focus on maintaining their near-flawless play and the hope that the voters eventually reward them. 

Coming into Friday’s matchup against Aurora, both the Bears and the Spartans were undefeated. Wash. U. had a 12-0 record before the games on Friday, while Aurora was on a 13-game win streak. Wash. U. swept the double header in commanding fashion, winning 3-2 and 6-2.  “Going into those two games, we knew they’d be out for blood,” junior first baseman Bo Anderson said. “So we knew we’d have to really take it to them.”

[Our recap of the Bears’ play last weekend: ‘We have a very strong, calm confidence’]

Riding their undefeated streak, the pressure was on the Bears to compete against a strong Aurora team away from home. “It was pretty nerve-wracking because we had an opportunity to do something really great. Beating a No. 5 team—sweeping them and advancing to 14-0, that’s just kind of always on my mind,” freshman Clayton Miller said.

The first game was fast-paced. Senior pitcher Ryan Loutos continued his dominant early season, tossing eight sharp innings of one-run ball and tallying 12 strikeouts on the way. Senior outfielder Johnny LaMantia came around to score in the top of the fourth on junior Zac Styka’s double, and the Bears tacked on two more runs in the fifth inning to establish a 3-0 lead. A determined Aurora team was able to surge back, capitalizing on a Wash. U. error to bring the score to 3-2 by the ninth. “That just shows that any small mistake in the field can cause a small amount of chaos,” Anderson said. But the final score remained 3-2, as the Bears just managed to hold off a comeback to secure the win. 

The second game remained scoreless until a breakout second inning. With two outs and a runner on third, the announcer looked at the lineup and said, “What Aurora doesn’t want is [Wash. U. junior] Tim Van Kirk to come up to the plate with runners on third.” Soon after, Van Kirk, who is having a breakout season for the Bears, stepped up to the plate and proved the announcer right, hitting a single that allowed Andrew Huang and Henry Singer to score. But the inning did not end with him. Miller, the only freshman in the lineup, doubled to center field, scoring Van Kirk easily. The train of offense kept rolling as Caleb Durbin doubled to bring Miller around. “It was a really key moment—after that, their dugout was pretty quiet,” Anderson recalled. Anderson homered in the eighth to put the icing on a strong offensive performance from the Bears, with a final score of 6-2.

[Durbin discusses high school wrestling career and keeping up with Tim Van Kirk]

In the preseason, the Bears stressed the small details of their performance, and that showed on the field with the seamless way they maximized their scoring opportunities. Van Kirk stole six more bases, giving him the UAA lead with 16 total on the season. Currently, four out of the top five players in the UAA for stolen bases are Bears. 

The Bears have been dominant so far, but this weekend will pose a challenge to the team’s depth they have yet to encounter this season. Their schedule is packed, with a doubleheader on Friday against Westminster, and two more doubleheaders on Saturday and Sunday against Webster, which has proven to be a tough opponent in the past. Wash. U. has beaten the Gorloks once this season, but only after a 12-inning game that lasted over four hours. Webster currently is 18-4 and is coming off a stellar Saturday after hitting eight home runs in their doubleheader against Eureka College. Unlike Wash. U., Webster will come into the Saturday doubleheader fresh, having Friday to rest their top players. The Bears will need to stay sharp, string together hits and minimize errors with an opponent who can and will capitalize on every opportunity. 

If anything, the three doubleheaders this coming weekend will test how durable this Wash. U. team really is. In the words of the announcer at the Aurora game, Loutos has been “positively filthy,” yet he can only start one of six upcoming games. The lineup is likely to change, with new, untested faces suddenly taking on critical roles in what seems like an inflection point in this promising season. But Anderson is confident that the whole team will rise to the occasion. “We have that depth, knowing that we can trust the guys that are in the dugout, ready to go,” he said. “And I think that’s just one thing that has separated us from other teams. When we are facing that adversity—when pitchers aren’t hitting their spots or when guys aren’t hitting well—we have 31 other guys on the team to back us up,” he said.

  Freshman Miller is also excited for the opportunity for the younger players to potentially get playing time this weekend. There have been relatively few chances for those less experienced players to get on the field with the upperclassmen playing so well, but they “have a really good team with a lot of depth,” he said. “It’s one thing to say there’s pressure—it’s another to say that the pressure affects us.” 

Editor’s Note: Senior Sports Editor Grady Nance was a member of the Washington University baseball team during the 2018-2019 year.

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