by Jon Marsh
Asst. Sports Editor
The University of La Verne baseball team made a three-game sweep of the Occidental Tigers, taking a double-header, Saturday, Feb. 21, at Oxy, and winning again Tuesday, Feb. 24, at home, improving its record to 5-2, overall and 3-0 in SCIAC competition.
“The outcome of today’s game will be determined by pitching,” said reserve infielder Scott Root just before Saturday’s games; and that it was.
Dale Buzzard snagged the first game win, striking out five. Tigers and walking three. Buzzard allowed seven hits while facing just 23 batters, which is only two over the minimum for a seven-inning game.
In the first game, innings one and two weren’t productive for the Leos. Catcher Mike Muraca led the game off with a single, but an Oxy double-play followed, along with a ground-out to end the Leo’s threat to score. The second inning was much like the first as the Leos left an opportunity on third base before grounding out again.
The Leos only scoring would come in the third inning of the game. Eric Smith sent a single through the second base gap, preceded by a line drive single by Rod Wright, sending Smith to third. Freshman center fielder Dominic Mistone directed a double to center field, scoring Smith and Wright to put the Leos up 2-0. But the Tigers would retaliate with a run of their own in the fourth as Muraca’s attempt to pick off an Oxy runner stealing third was overthrown, allowing the runner to score.
The Leos lost a golden opportunity to build on their lead in the sixth when Eric Wood, with one out and the bases loaded, sent a shot to the shortstop who made a double-play. It appeared deja vu in the bottom of the inning when, with the bases loaded and no outs, Oxy’s Isidro Rodriguez bunted over the head of Leo third baseman Mark Stutzman. Stutzman’s quickness enabled him to catch the ball and tag the bag for the double-play. The Tigers next batter grounded to Stutzman, who threw to second to end the inning.
Buzzard struck out the final two batters to end the game. As Stutzman did the inning before, Buzzard was directly responsible for all three of the outs.
“Fantastic pitching, clutch hitting and a little luck summed up today’s performance,” said reserve catcher Gregg Ratkovic.
The Leos got off to another slow start in game two, but rallied to top the Tiger, 4-2.
The Tigers scored first when Leo pitcher Kevin Engle gave up a solo home run in the third. The Tigers then loaded up the bases but were unable to capitalize.
It wasn’t until the sixth inning that the Leos managed to tie the game. Mistone singled and went to third on Stutzman’s double to center field. Robert Carreon hit a single scoring Mistone. In the bottom of the inning, a controversial call against Oxy delayed play while Oxy coach Jeff Henderson disputed the call. The outcome of the argument was an ejection of Henderson from the field. When play resumed, Oxy scored on a long double to left field. Two plays later, Oxy’s Mike Kniseley was thrown out on a close call at first. Oxy center fielder Bruce Fuller and an assistant coach questioned the call by arguing with the umpire. After another delay, both were ejected from the game.
The game was reinstated as the Tigers took the field to begin the seventh. inning. Ross Shiroma led off the hitting with a single to right center field. Muraca sailed a double to left field scoring Shiroma and tying the game at two.
The Leos, who scored one run in each of the last four innings, tallied a run in the eighth when Jim Wolfe powered a shot up the middle, scoring pinch runner Scott Root, and in the ninth on a double by Stutzman that scored Mistone.
In Tuesday’s match up, it looked as though the Leos would dominate from the first pitch.
Despite rainy and cold weather, Leo left-hander Jeff Abel struck out two Tigers in the first inning to get the Leos on the right track. The Leos came out swinging in their first at bat, with a lead off double by Muraca. Muraca was replaced by courtesy runner Dave Dosa who progressed to third when Tiger catcher Jim Klement dropped the third strike to Stutzman as Stutzman ran to first. First baseman Dominick Copas hit a single to score Dosa and Stutzman advanced to second. Carreon appeared at the plate, briefly, as he was hit in the head with a wild pitch for a charity trot to first base. Designated hitter Dale Buzzard hit into a double play to end the inning with a La Verne lead.
ULV scored in the fourth as Smith hit his first home run as a Leo, pounding the ball over the 345 foot mark, putting the Leos up 2-0. Oxy came back with a score of its own in the fifth, but the Leos returned the favor with seven runs in the same inning. Muraca again started off the Leo scoring effort by advancing to first on an error. Mistone smacked a double to right field, moving courtesy runner Dosa to third.
Stutzman was intentionally walked and was followed by Copas, who singled to score Dosa. Oxy looked to its bullpen and found Kevin Hattori in hopes of ending the Leo drive; the move failed. Hattori walked Carreon and Buzzard, scoring Mistone and Stutzman. Wolfe singled, scoring Copas, followed by a single from Smith which scored Carreon and Buzzard. Wright walked and Mistone got to first on an error, scoring Wolfe. The Leos next two batters were put out, but the Leos had built. up what seemed to be a comfortable lead.
The Leos got a shock in the seventh when Abel ran out of gas. Abel won the game, finishing with six strike outs and five walks. The Tigers accounted for seven runs in the inning to come within one run of the Leos. But Leo relief pitcher Dale Buzzard entered the game to strike out three Tigers and preserve the win.