BY JEFF EVANS Californian staff writer email@example.com
Returning to Bakersfield is the best thing for Cal State Bakersfield's baseball team, which is looking to gain momentum as the Western Athletic Conference regular season enters its final two weekends.
CSUB has played its last seven games on the road and is only 2-4 over its last six games.
Seattle at CSUB
When: Today at 6 p.m., Saturday at 6 p.m., Sunday at noon
Where: Hardt Field
Series: First meeting
Records: CSUB 31-18 (14-7 WAC), Seattle 19-29 (8-12 WAC)
Notes: CSUB coach Bill Kernen reports DH and relief pitcher Dylan Christensen has completed recovered from the oblique injury that sidelined him from April 19-May 2. He returned last weekend, going 1-for-11 vs. Louisiana Tech. ... Seattle had a 3-2 win over No. 11-ranked Oregon on May 1.
But through all of that, the Roadrunners continue to be the WAC leader at 14-7 (31-18 overall). Right on their heels are Texas-Arlington and Texas State, both 13-8. Adding to the intrigue this weekend: Arlington hosts Texas State in a three-game series starting today.
"That's the best thing: One of them has to lose," CSUB coach Bill Kernen said.
The Roadrunners will play host to Seattle University (19-29, 8-12 WAC) at 6 tonight, 6 p.m. Saturday and noon Sunday. These games will be the final home contests of the season for CSUB, which is 20-9 at Hardt Field.
CSUB closes the WAC regular season next weekend at San Jose State (14-34, 8-13). In between, the Roadrunners are at Cal Poly for a non-conference game Tuesday.
The Roadrunners are assured of a spot in the eight-team WAC Tournament, which will be held May 22-26 in Grand Prairie, Texas, just outside Dallas. That tournament winner will represent the WAC in the NCAA Tournament that begins in early June.
Kernen noted that Seattle and San Jose State are both battling for spots in the WAC Tournament. The WAC has 10 teams, so two won't qualify.
"Those guys will be fighting to be in the tournament, so we know they'll be motivated," Kernen said. "We're trying to be a top-2 seed, but they both have a lot to play for."
The Roadrunners continue to have the WAC's best pitching staff, as evidenced by a WAC-leading 3.16 ERA, but six games ago it was 2.67.
Four CSUB pitchers rank among the top seven in WAC ERA. Senior lefty Jeff McKenzie is first (1.90), Scott Brattvet is fourth (2.57), Taylor Aikenhead is fifth (2.74) and Jonathan Montoya is seventh (3.51).
"I'm not OK with the way we've pitched the last month vs. the way we pitched earlier in the year," Kernen said.
"It all has to do with pitch command. We're walking a lot more hitters than we were walking before."
But Kernen hasn't gone into a panic over the team's 6.98 ERA in the last six games.
"Some of that might be because we've been on the road, but we've pitched well on the road before," he said. "When you go through a long season, nobody just mows through the whole season. Every team has stretches like this.
"Looking at it the most optimistic way: I'm glad it happened over the last month than have it start now."
McKenzie, tonight's starter, is 11-1 and coming off a 2-0 shutout win at Louisiana Tech on Friday that led to his fourth WAC Pitcher of the Week award this season.
Brattvet (7-1) and Montoya (3-3) have struggled in their recent games. Brattvet allowed six earned runs in 3-1/3 innings against Louisiana Tech on Saturday, but avoided a loss when CSUB came from behind to win 9-8 on a six-run rally in the eighth inning. Montoya allowed five earned runs in 5-1/3 innings Sunday in a 9-4 loss.
"We have a plan to get that turned around," Kernen said. "We just haven't done as well these last 3-4 weeks. We're taking it as an alarm bell ringing and now we need to get it fixed."