Fresno Pacific: Sunbirds pair help ease team’s slow start on diamond

As the National Christian College Athletic Association World Series champion each of the past two seasons, the Fresno Pacific baseball team relished finally being eligible for the NCAA Division II postseason this year.

But after a 5-9 start, another postseason run might already be unattainable.

Fresno Pacific, however, was in position to begin getting back on track with the start of PacWest play. The Sunbirds began a four-game series Thursday against Academy of Art (4-9) in San Francisco.

“We lost a lot of good players, a lot of seniority from last year,” said coach Oscar Hirschkorn, who is in his 11th season with the Sunbirds. “We played a lot of games in a short stretch and had some injuries, which is kind of why we’ve struggled.

“I still think we have a chance. I’m optimistic we’re going to mature fast here out.”

Fresno Pacific, picked to finish fifth in the 10-team conference in a preseason coaches’ poll, has received strong efforts from two players.

Senior Preston Scott, who led the Sunbirds in nearly every offensive category last season, is terrorizing opposition pitching again. He’s batting .370 (20 for 54), and more than half of his hits have gone for extra bases (11).

Scott – who has a home run, four triples and six doubles – sports a .685 slugging percentage and has piled up 13 runs and 10 RBIs.

In addition, right-hander Austin Tatum has dominated out of the bullpen.

Tatum is 2-0 with a 1.93 ERA and 11 strikeouts to one walk in 9 1/3 innings. Hirschkorn said he will test Tatum as a starter during the back end of a doubleheader Friday.

Swimming and diving – The Fresno Pacific swimming and diving teams are gearing up for the D-II championships next week at the Indiana University Natatorium.

The Sunbirds will send four men’s swimmers, along with a diver, and two women’s swimmers.

Sophomore Maxim Shcherbakov qualified in the 100- and 200-yard breaststroke.

Shcherbakov will compete in the 400 medley relay with sophomore Luka Barisic, senior Wesley Coles and freshman Austin Hussain. The foursome set a school record at 3 minutes, 14.97 seconds earlier this year.

Junior diver Duston Gragg will compete in the 1- and 3-meter events.

On the women’s side, sophomore Daria Belova qualified in the 200 IM , 100 butterfly and 100 and 200 breaststroke. Sophomore Bavindeep Basra will swim in the 200 IM and 400 IM.

Men’s basketball – Fresno Pacific guard Madison Higgins was named to the All-PacWest third team.

The 6-foot-2 senior ranked fourth in the conference at 18.2 points per game and sixth in three-pointers at 2.8.

The Sunbirds finished 14-13 overall and 9-11 in the PacWest, finishing ninth and missing out on the conference championship tournament reserved for the top six in the 14-team league.

Women’s basketball – Sunbirds center Jasmine Shedrick concluded her career as the No. 2 shot blocker in school history.

The 6-footer amassed 50 blocks in 25 games this season and 118 all time. She averaged 6.9 points and 5.2 rebounds this season.

Fresno Pacific finished 5-21 overall and was 12th in the PacWest at 3-17.

Track and field – Vernon Sampson became the second pole vaulter in Fresno Pacific history to clear 16 feet.

The sophomore vaulted 16 feet, 5 1/4 inches at last week’s Rossi Relays in Claremont. He fell 1 inch shy of Steve Hardison’s 43-year-old school record.

In addition, high jumper Sarah Hill matched her school record of 5-10.

Bryant-Jon Anteola: (559) 441-6362, @Banteola_TheBee