By Matt Leon
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Every college athlete probably dreams about being the star on Senior Day, going out in style in their final collegiate home game.
On Sunday, La Salle closer Pat Christensen got to live that dream. The senior got the final five outs and picked up the win when the Explorers scored a run in the bottom of the 8th inning to snap a 2-2 tie and beat Delaware 3-2.
“And (fellow senior Dan) Klem (scored) the game winning run, so it could not have been drawn up any better,” Christensen told KYW Newsradio after the game. “It was a great day. Great way to end it on the Hank (La Salle’s home – Hank DeVincent Field).”
It was indeed a great day, but it is just the latest of several great days for the right-hander from La Jolla, California. He has made a significant impact on the baseball program at La Salle, but his career has also elevated him among the elite closers in the history of Division I baseball.
With 10 saves in 2013, Christensen now has 43 for his career, and that has him tied for sixth on the all-time Division I list (the record is 53). That is pretty rarified air, but Christensen says he isn’t focusing on records right now.
“I think that’s something I’ll probably let soak in after the season is over,” Christensen says. “Right now I’m just interested getting the team to try and get a first-round bye (in the Atlantic 10 tournament) if we can, get first overall in the conference and then take it from there. But I think after the season, it will definitely start to soak in for me.”
Christensen has a 6-1 record this season to go along with those ten saves. In 41.2 innings, he has compiled a 2.59 ERA with 48 strikeouts. He has walked just eight batters.
“He comes in and competes,” La Salle pitching coach John Duffy tells KYW Newsradio. “And he throws strikes. He’s not going to let himself get beat by not throwing strikes. He gives our team a tremendous amount of confidence. Our guys know, when he comes in, he’s going to throw strikes, they make some great plays behind him. He’s a competitor. He’s a winner on the field, off the field, and that’s the best way to describe him. He’s a winner.”
Another impressive aspect of Christensen’s career is the fact that, more often then not, he is pitching more than one inning. In six of his saves during 2013, he has pitched two or more frames.
“It’s important to me to try and get the ball as early as possible,” Christensen says. “If the coach thinks the best situation is me coming in in the seventh inning, because I know I can go three innings and possibly get the job done, I think that’s a pretty good way of doing it. I have had a couple one-inning saves here and there, but it’s not much different going two, three innings. You just have a slightly different mentality knowing you have to go a little longer. But it’s the same type of approach, just trying to get one out at a time.”
Christensen’s not a flame thrower. His fastball sits in the mid-to-high 80’s. But like a great real estate agent, he knows the importance of location, location, location. And he now features three pitches.
“Live and die on the fastball,” Christensen says. “But the slider has come along pretty good and the change-up has actually gotten better, too. I’ve been utilizing the 0-0 (first pitch) slider a little bit more because scouting reports (on him) say a lot of fastballs. So a lot of times, a hitter will be sitting fastball 0-0 and be ready for it, so I’ll have to flip in a slider. So that’s probably been one of my biggest changes from the last couple years.”
Duffy says Christensen is a true student of the game.
“He sits here and he watches the game,” Duffy says. “He watches what the guys are doing before he gets to face them. So he has a plan when he comes in, and more than anything he throws strikes.”
Now as Christensen was closing the door on the Blue Hens on Sunday, there were at least two scouts with radar guns taking a special interest in him. While he still has work to do for an Explorer team that has a chance to do some damage in the Atlantic 10 Tournament, it is obvious his success at La Salle has opened the possibility of playing pro ball.
“No question I’m going to try and play baseball after this,” Christensen says. “My heart’s still in it, I just want to keep on playing as long as I can.”
The Major League Baseball draft is next month and his head coach at La Salle, Mike Lake, is truly hopeful that someone will give Christensen a chance.
“He definitely deserves it,” Lake tells KYW Newsradio. “I know the scouts, the magic number, especially for right-handers is 90 miles an hour. But I’ll tell you what, his fastball looks like 90 because it is hard to pick-up. He’s got a lot of movement and he lives on the corners. He is somebody, if they give him a chance, he’ll come in and he’ll get outs. And he’ll move up.”
Lake says players like Christensen just don’t come along that often.
“He means everything to the program,” Lake says. “And it’s not just his pitching, it’s his character. How he handles himself on the field here, how he handles himself off the field and in the classroom. He’s what a true student-athlete exemplifies. We are very proud to have him here. He’s just a great kid, his parents are great people to have, too.”
Lake jokes about just how much he will miss Christensen next season.
“I told him as soon as he leaves, I’m going with him.”
Christensen and La Salle sit at 21-23 on the season, including an impressive 13-6 mark in the Atlantic 10, which has them in a three-way tie for first place. They open a series at St. Bonaventure on Friday.
You can follow Matt on Twitter @mattleonkyw.