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  • Caltech athletics

Hometown Report: Long losing streak finally over, technically speaking

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013 - 8:06 pm

Brian Penserini was fighting a cold Monday, his voice hoarse, his nose clogged.

Other than that, things are looking up for Penserini, an El Camino High School graduate who is a senior catcher and captain for perhaps the most hard-luck college baseball team in the country, a program so far off the radar you might need a team of scientists to find it.

Caltech – a team of engineers, scientists and high school valedictorians in Pasadena – finally won a game Saturday.

Penserini had three hits, drove in a run and scored to help the Beavers beat Pacifica of San Dimas 9-7 in the second game of a doubleheader to end a 228-game – that's not a typo – losing streak that stretched nearly 10 seasons.

Despite the long streak, it would be foolish to poke fun at the Beavers. Try comparing SAT scores, National Merit Scholarship finalists and the like.

Caltech is known for its academics; 31 of its graduates are Nobel Prize winners, and four are on faculty. Athletic failure, however, isn't limited to baseball. In 2011, the men's basketball team ended a 310-game conference losing streak over 26 seasons.

"When I come home, knowing I'm a student here is definitely a neat feeling," Penserini said. "A lot of guys are playing sports here because, first and foremost, it's fun. It's definitely a break from our studies.

"Our main goal is to graduate, get a Ph.D. and come up with some sort of patent for the newest, best invention, or to work for NASA, or to be scientists, or to work for Google."

How many baseball players can talk passionately about paleomagnetics, how the Earth's surface has changed and magma?

"I'm probably the only one," Penserini said with a laugh, adding that his dream isn't to drive in winning runs in the minors but to be a geology professor or to study Yosemite from boulder to sand.

Still, scholars are competitors, too. Losing stings.

For Penserini, a four-year starter behind the plate, it wasn't just the back and limbs that hurt.

"It stinks to lose so many games, but we have perspective, and it could be a lot worse," Penserini said. "Here, we're limited to two-hour practices. Most schools go a lot longer, but we have so much school going on. …

"It really hit me later that it was the first time in my four years here that it was my first NCAA baseball victory of my entire career. That feels good."

Caltech is a Division III school with 900 students. The baseball team, with just 13 players, takes on teams with 40 or more.

Winning a game isn't the only thing new for Caltech baseball. The Beavers have a new coach, Matthew Mark, and new uniforms.

"Competing and winning, it's what we've been preaching," Mark said after Saturday's victory. "It's fantastic. I'm ecstatic for these guys."

Last season, Penserini earned American Baseball Coaches Association All-Region honors after hitting a team-high .430.

Penserini also pitched 32 2/3 innings.

Penserini isn't just a student and baseball player. He also scored 47 goals in water polo for the 4-21 Beavers this fall. He had a hat trick on his birthday, Oct. 29, two seasons ago.

And here's more Penserini perspective: An only child, he plays in honor of his parents. His father, Dan, a player on Mira Loma's championship football teams in the early 1970s, is a Sacramento lawyer. Penserini's mother, Tamsin, his biggest fan, has been slowed by multiple sclerosis.

"I'm definitely inspired by my mom – to succeed, to work hard," Penserini said. "Me being here makes her happy. And you know moms. She doesn't care if we win or lose. Just as long as we're having fun."

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