This week Team Living90045 welcomes a particularly special guest post from Catherine Galanti. Would you like to write for us? More info here.
For the Loyola Marymount baseball program, 2017 was full of highs and lows, but mostly highs. The team finished 38-18 overall, with a 20-7 conference record tying them with Gonzaga and BYU to share the WCC title. This is a title the Lions hadn’t taken home since the 2000 season. LMU was expected to finish seventh in a conference of ten, but battled to the top. The Lions were nationally ranked, then stumbled, then climbed back to claim the #27 spot in the country. They went almost undefeated in series play, going 11-1-1. All this is in addition to the first perfect game in program-and conference- history.
To the Lions and their fans, it was no surprise when they made it to the WCC Championship Tournament. Watching the chemistry, teamwork and magic that happened on the field made the question less “Will they make it to the tournament?” and more “How far can they go in the NCAA final?” The prospect of a title and a championship run was equally exciting to the seniors who were finishing their collegiate careers, the freshman who were just beginning theirs, and anyone else who came in contact with the team. This season, the Lions seemed unstoppable.
This past weekend, teams and fans gathered in Stockton, CA for the West Coast Conference Championship Tournament. LMU won the first game against BYU narrowly, and moved on to play Gonzaga. Through a series of bad calls, good pitching, and little to no offense, the Lions dropped their second and third games to Gonzaga and BYU, respectively.
The final inning of LMU’s last game proved that the Lions weren’t ready for their season to end. Down 5-1 in the top of the ninth, LMU rallied, cutting the deficit to 5-3 with a massive bases-loaded double by Steven Chavez. Had the ball arc’d just a few feet higher, Chavez would have tied the game with his first career grand slam. With one out left, the Lions scored another run and had the tying run just 90 feet away. Working a nine-pitch at-bat, Joe Murray was ultimately called on strikes to end the game. After a weekend of nerve wracking situations and frustrating calls from the umps, that last could-have-been-a-ball pitch was truly heartbreaking.
In a double elimination tournament, that loss meant that LMU would not advance to the final game on Saturday. That, too, was heartbreaking.
Seeing both teams on the field, one celebrating and one leaving dejectedly, I cried. I cried because LMU worked so hard to overcome being the underdog. I cried because for some of those players it was their last chance. I cried because as much as I wanted that win, I know that they wanted it so much more. I cried because of the raw emotion on the field – for BYU, euphoria. For the Lions, heartbreak. I cried because I witnessed an LMU player take a deep breath, wipe his eyes and immediately comfort his teammates returning to the dugout.
In my heart, I know that it wasn’t the Lions’ fault. They finished with a season that is more than worthy of being proud of. They played hard, they played consistently and, most importantly, they played as a team. They had one of the best records in the Conference. They were playing very tough teams in the tournament, and had to deal with equally tough umpires. Somewhere inside, I know all this.
I also know that it’s a game. It’s a game that I don’t play but still spend the vast majority of my life analyzing, replaying and mentally turning over and over in awe, like a giant Rubik’s cube I just can’t solve. It’s something that I stand outside of, but that I love maybe as much as the guys on the field do. It’s hard to spend countless hours, games and even different cities and states with a team and not be invested. It’s hard to see something you’re passionate about go wrong in a high stakes situation and not be affected. Even if you’ve never stepped foot on a baseball diamond, it becomes personal. You feel every win with a sense of soaring freedom, every loss with an acute pain. You become empathetic with the team. What they go through, you go through, for better or worse.
And so, even though I cried with the Lions as they were sent home from Stockton, I know that this isn’t the end. LMU missed out on a chance to advance to the NCAA regionals on an at large bid. However, I know that will only allow them to work harder as they move on to Summer leagues and will strengthen the team when they return to school this Fall. The team finished with a season that is worth being proud of. Their heads should be held high with the knowledge that they fought with the hearts of Lions the whole way.
Everyone involved will look back on 2017 and be proud to have been a part of it. I, for one, am proud to have been there while history was made, and I’m looking forward to seeing what’s in store for the Lions in Summer baseball and especially when the college baseball season begins again next year.