The night before his cleats toe the pitchers’ mound at Orange’s Hart Park, senior Jonathan Hernandez lies in the comfort of his bed in the dark. He’s avoided sugar the entire day. He lights a candle and his mind drifts to the thoughts of the upcoming game. Before he falls asleep, he visualizes his movement on the field, the pitches he’ll throw and his hopes for his team’s success.
“Then, the next day I’m starting,” Hernandez said. “I get to the field about an hour and a half before game time and go through my warm-up – that’s the same every time.”
Routine is also important to senior starting rotation members Mason Collins and Tyler Peck. The three combined have started 24 of the team’s 27 games so far, with head coach Scott Laverty describing the trio as a “three-headed monster.”
“We knew that (pitching) would be a strength for us,” Laverty said. “Their experience and their presence being calm helps everyone.”
Chapman is ranked No. 8 among Division III schools nationally. As a team, the university ranks No. 35 nationally among all Division III schools this season in earned run average (ERA), according to the NCAA. The three pitchers contribute to that figure with their own individual numbers – Hernandez with a 3.05 ERA, Peck with a 2.44 and Collins at 3.12 for the 2018-2019 season.
But, Collins pays no mind to his statistics during the spring season. He hasn’t checked them once. The reason? He’s a perfectionist.
“I’m very analytical … If my batting average against is .210 and then I give up a hit, it’s like, ‘Oh, OK, now it’s .213,’” Collins said. “I don’t want to be thinking about that while I’m out on the mound, so I’d rather not know it all and then surprise myself.”
Peck is the opposite. He’s aimed for a specific number at the end of the season: 100 strikeouts. Peck said he checks his statistics nearly every morning – which, he said, is “probably too much.”
The three pitchers come from similar athletic backgrounds. Peck and Collins competed against one another in Marin, California, as students at Redwood High School and Tamalpais High School, while Hernandez attended St. Ignatius College Preparatory in San Francisco.
“We’ve been here for the past four years,” Hernandez said. “It’s fun to see us all now from when we were freshmen to this year.”
Hernandez and Collins pitched as long relievers during their first three years before transitioning into a starting role this season. Peck saw his ERA drop by nearly four runs per nine innings his junior year, a performance that he’s matched this season.
Laverty’s favorite aspect of this season is the determination and relentlessness of the the team, even when they fall behind.
Of course, Collins might have avoided checking his statistics and seeing he struck out 11 batters that day. The previous day, Hernandez may have lit a candle the night before throwing six innings in a win. And the game before that, Peck probably examined statistics to confirm he struck out 10 California Baptist University hitters. Collectively, the trio is spearheading a nationally ranked team, with goals of making a deep postseason run.
“We play for a national championship,” Laverty said.