Baseball team splits with Azusa; will face Cal Baptist on Tuesday

by Jesse Steinberg
Staff Writer

Opening its season on a good note, the University of La Verne baseball team split its opening day double against the Azusa Pacific University Cougars, Saturday.

The Leos will host the alumni game tomorrow starting at noon and will return to regular season play Tuesday as they travel to Cal Baptist for a 2:30 p.m. game. The team will also play at home Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. when they host Biola.

The Leopards captured the first game, 8-4, but fell in the second game, 8-3.

“We played well,” said first baseman Dominick Copas. “Coach (Chris) Willitts really had us pumped up.”

In the opening game, the Leopards rallied to score four runs in the top half of the fifth inning to break a 2-2 tie. Senior Mark Stutzman started the inning with a walk. Stutz­man was replaced by pinch runner freshman Scott Root. Root moved to third on Copas’s double to left field.

After an out, Eric Wood was intentionally walked to load the bases. Freshman Dominic Mistone then banged a base hit scoring Root. With two outs, junior Rod Wright drop­ped a double down the right field line to score both Copas and Wood, bringing the score to 6-3 at the end of five innings.

The Leos added two insurance runs in the seventh inning. Dale Buzzard pitched a complete game allowing four runs on seven hits, while walking six and striking out seven.

In the second game, the Leos battled the Cougars to a 1-1 tie going into the bottom of the sixth inning. Then the roof collapsed on the Leopards. Starting pitcher Kevin Engle allowed two runs in the inning and three more in the seventh to push APU to a 6-1 lead. Relief pitcher Tim Wells allowed two unearned runs in the bottom of the eighth to give Azusa Pacific an 8-1 lead going into the ninth inning.

“I am real pleased with the way the team played,” said team captain Engle. “We didn’t make any mistakes.”

La Verne staged a comeback, but fell short. The Leos scored two runs in the ninth to close the gap.

“If we had been able to score in the top of the sixth in­ning, we would have won the game,” said Willitts, who was acting as head coach while Owen Wright was at the NCAA main office in Mission, Kan., for the soccer rules commit­tee meeting. “It seemed that each team was waiting for the other team to score.”

Offensively the Leopards were led by Copas, who had four hits, including two doubles, two walks and two runs scored on the day. Wright had four hits in six at bats, two RBIs and one run scored. Wood collected three hits in six at bats with two runs scored and an RBI.

The Leopard team includes 13 returning players, six transfers and seven freshman.

The Leopards should be led by Copas, who was the team leader in batting average, homeruns and RBIs last year. Along with Copas; Stutzman, Wright, Wood, Buzzard and Bruce Lensch should help the Leo offense.

Transfers Mike Muraca, Robert Carreon, and Eric Smith will shore up vacancies left by the graduation of Lee Spengler, Doug McMasters and Joe Gaetano.

Freshman Dominic Mistone will take over the patrol of center field for two-time AII-SCIAC performer Jeff Paul, who used up his baseball eligibility last spring.

Returnee Jim Wolfe will add depth to the outfield, while freshman Rick Niles, Gregg Ratkovic, Don Lockman, John Davenport, Root and transfers Chris Beyer and Dave Dosa will all help the team.

The team lacked strong pitching last season, but with seven returning pitchers they should be stronger this season. The staff is led by Engle and Buzzard. Lefthanders Jeff Abel and Wells will help the staff. Both Wells and Abel threw well during the pre-season.

Curveball pitcher Chip Porter will have some company in the bullpen. Transfer Rob Powell will add another break­ing ball specialist to the staff.

Jesse Steinberg
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