By Joshua Parrott, Sports Writer
Arnie Gomez entered the 2003 baseball season knowing he had a chance to fill in the spot left open by the departure of all-American first baseman Brandon Stover.
The California native proved worthy of the role this past weekend, collecting two hits in each of his first two games of the season, as the Wildcats took three of four games from Incarnate Word in San Antonio.
ACU showed why it was picked to win the Lone Star Conference title, banging out six home runs and winning two games in its final at-bat. The Wildcats, 3-1 overall, fell to sixth in the most recent Collegiate Baseball magazine poll after opening the season ranked fourth in the nation.
The next test for the Wildcats will come in the form of Northeastern State, who comes to Abilene to play a Friday doubleheader and a single game Saturday. The first game Friday will start at 2 p.m. and Saturday’s game will start at noon.
Gomez, a junior-college transfer from Fresno, Calif., said he expects nothing less than victory again this upcoming weekend.
“The main reason I’m here is to play baseball, but the biggest thing for us as a team is to win,” said Gomez.
The Wildcats split the opening doubleheader Saturday against the Crusaders, winning the first game, 6-5, before dropping the second game, 7-5. Senior third baseman Brad Massey and sophomore utility player Ryan Barker hit home runs in the top of the seventh inning of the first game to steal a 6-5 come-from-behind victory from the Crusaders. Junior pitcher Paul Howey pitched a scoreless ninth inning for ACU to pick up the victory.
Gomez said he started his Wildcat career better than he could have ever expected.
“You have Massey, [senior catcher Chris] Churchill and Marcelino [Escalante, a senior outfielder] on this team,” said Gomez, who hit a two-run home run in the season-opening win. “I’m just trying to be able to keep up with them.”
Coach Britt Bonneau’s Wildcats closed out the weekend with a two-game sweep of the Crusaders on Sunday, scoring four runs in the top of the seventh inning to steal the first game, 9-8, and pounding out 10 hits in a 13-4 Wildcat victory.
In the first game Sunday, junior Aaron Lawler got the victory for the Wildcats, while junior Justin Whitlock earned his first save of the season.
Senior second baseman Luis Mu¤oz said the influx of new pitchers like Whitlock is a blessing for this season’s team.
“We have a lot of new pitching this year,” Munoz said. “Even though we lost some guys, we’ll be more successful on the road this season.”
In the last game of the day, Barker collected three hits and a pair of RBI in the 13-4 blowout, while Massey allowed only five hits over six innings to pick up his first victory of the season. Preseason all-American Creighton Bryan and senior outfielder Clay Chesser added back-to-back home runs early in the game.
Gomez said having so many teammates from the state of California has helped ease his transition to Division II baseball, as has Stover, who is now a graduate assistant coach.
“I had always played first base, but I ended up playing right field last season at Mission Junior College,” said Gomez, who is from the same part of California as Mu¤oz and Chesser. “Stover has helped me defensively making the move back from the outfield to first base. It’s going to be hard to fill in his shoes.”
Though Gomez’s performance last weekend proved otherwise.