It was a little late in the process when Randy Town was named coach of the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps baseball team last August.
So late, in fact, that athletic department officials had already completed recruiting and scheduling by the time the 31-year-old coach arrived.
"That made it a little difficult because I wasn't a part of the recruiting or the scheduling process," Town recalled. "You like to have a hand in those things."
That's one reason the Stags were not considered among the favorites in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. Also, they had finished fourth in the SCIAC last season.
But once he got a look, Town knew the Stags weren't a bad team.
"The coach who was here before (Pat Murphy) did a good job of setting things up for me," Town said. "Pat was there for two years (before leaving to become coach at Notre Dame), and he did a good job of getting freshmen and sophomores into the program."
There was also the school's successful tradition, which began with the arrival of former coach Bill Arce in 1957.
"He coached here for over 20 years, and he established the tradition that's in the program today," Town said. "I think there is a sense of unity that this is part of a larger organization. There's a lot of tradition of pride with this program."
It was enough to give Town a fair degree of optimism heading into the season.
Even so, Town admits that he is a little surprised that the Stags are in first place in the SCIAC at 14-1, 26-8 overall and 10th-ranked in the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. Division III in the latest poll by Collegiate Baseball magazine.
The Stags clinched the conference title Tuesday when La Verne lost a doubleheader to Occidental.
"I expected a close race in the conference," Town said. "I didn't expect us to sweep several series that we have."
There certainly are not many small college teams that can claim to be hitting .361 and have nine players batting at .317 or higher. Or many that can say they are averaging 9.47 runs a game while allowing only 5.7.
Leading the way are designated hitter Neal Nichols at .434, shortstop Paul Urrutia at .417, second baseman Kraig Johnson and center fielder Daren Hengesbach at .371, and catcher Chris Dabrow at .349. There is also first baseman Andy Sallee, who is batting .509 since arriving from the basketball team in March.
Town said that the effective offense has given his starting pitchers added confidence. The leaders are juniors Karl Gneiting at 9-1 and Scott Stallings at 9-2, and the team earned-run average is 4.31.
The numbers are impressive enough, but the question is whether the Stags' final record will be good enough to earn a berth in the Division III West Regional.
That's because three other West Coast schools--UC San Diego, Cal State San Bernardino and Cal State Stanislaus--are ranked ahead of the Stags in the Division III top 10 and only two teams from the region are expected to earn postseason berths.
Claremont has split two games with San Diego, has lost to San Bernardino and has not played Stanislaus.
"An NCAA committee will make a decision based on won-lost record, strength of schedule and other factors," Town said. "It's going to come down to that."
College Division Notes
The Claremont-Mudd-Scripps baseball squad became the sixth team at the school to crack the top 10 during the 1987-88 season when the Stags were ranked No. 10 in the NCAA Division III last week. Earlier this year, the Stags finished No. 2 in men's swimming and No. 10 in water polo, and were ranked in the top 10 in women's swimming and women's cross-country during the season. They have also reached the top 20 in football, men's soccer, men's basketball and golf, and could finish in the top 20 in men's and women's track. . . . Of the six sports in which it has competed, Westmont has won five Golden State Athletic Conference championships this season, the most recent coming two weeks ago when it won the women's tennis title at Cal Lutheran. It was Westmont's second straight tennis title.