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PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – The La Salle University baseball team is in a dogfight for one of the six spots in this year’s Atlantic-10 Tournament, and one big reason for their success has been sophomore closer Pat Christensen.

A native of La Jolla, California, Christensen has 12 saves this season, and his presence has helped make head coach Mike Lake’s job easier by shortening the game.

“We know if we can get a tied game or lead in the eighth inning, we have a very good chance of coming out ahead,” Coach Lake told KYW’s Matt Leon.  “We have a lot of confidence in Pat.”

Hear Matt Leon’s full interview with coach Mike Lake in this CBS Philly SportsPod…

Christensen is actually relatively new to the closer’s role.  He was a starter in high school, but took over at the back of the bullpen last season as a freshman.

He says mental toughness is key to his job.

“The closer mentality is having no fear.  It’s the fact that you’re either going to win the game out there or you’re going to lose the game out there.  So you can’t be nervous, you have to just go out there and be ready to throw and be ready to give it your all,” Christiansen says.

Hear Matt Leon’s extended interview with Pat Christensen in this CBS Philly SportsPod…

And while Christensen’s save total catches your attention — he leads the Atlantic 10 — his other numbers may be even more impressive.  In 30⅔ innings, he has allowed 22 hits while walking just two batters, with 36 strikeouts.

Christensen has crafted a 1.47 ERA this season and opponents are hitting just .196 against him.   He credits first-year pitching coach Bob File for helping him fine-tune his approach:

“I never really had command of the inside corner like I have this year, and I think (Coach) File is a big part of that.  I have good two-seam (fastball) movement and I always lived on the outside corner, which doesn’t make sense.  Against a right-handed hitter you should be going inside if you have that type of movement, and (Coach) File finally made me realize, ‘Don’t be afraid. If you hit a guy, you hit a guy, just get it in there.  You’ll get a lot of ground-ball outs that way.’  And it’s been working so far.”

File, who spent three season pitching in the Major Leagues with the Blue Jays,  says learning to pitch inside has been big for Christiansen, but he adds that Christensen has done a great job of working the entire plate all season long.

“He’s throwing strikes,” Coach File tells KYW Newsradio.  “And when I say throwing strikes, he has a lot of late movement on his fastball, pitches to both sides of the plate.  Being able to throw a sinker on the outer half of the plate to a right-handed hitter is something many professional pitchers can’t do — and he does it with ease.”

Hear Matt Leon’s interview with Bob File in this CBS Philly SportsPod…

La Salle is 25-19 this season (11-7 in the A-10) after a Tuesday night loss to St. Joe’s.  They play Rider on Wednesday night, and then have a critical weekend series at home against Charlotte.

The Explorers are tied for third in the Atlantic 10, but they are part of a group of six teams vying for the final four spots in the conference tournament.  The six teams are all separated by a single game.

The Atlantic 10 Tournament will be held May 25th through 28th at Campbell’s Field in Camden, NJ.

Reported by Matt Leon, KYW Newsradio 1060

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