by Adrian Williams
The boys on the baseball team are learning a valuable lesson: practice what the coach preaches and things will fall into place.
“We’re starting to hit, field and pitch the way that I know we can,” said ULV Head Coach Owen Wright. “We aren’t playing quite the competition we were early in the season and we know this. But we are getting better, and we’re playing hot right now.”
Hot is right as the Leos hit, fielded, pitched and even brawled their way to a three-game sweep over the Tigers of Occidental last weekend. La Verne now stands at 11-1 in SCIAC play, good enough for a first place tie with Claremont-Mudd-Scripps.
After a slow start, the Leos, 11-1 in league, 16-17 overall, are starting to play up to their potential. Wright explained that the many new faces on the club created a few problems at the outset. He has really had to sift through and finally make some decisions.
“It often creates chaos on a team when no one knows their role,” explained Wright. “About two weeks ago we finally decided on who’s to be playing where, who will be a DH (designated hitter), who is pretty much a starting pitcher or a reliever. We’ve settled in on roles, and I think this has settled the team down. Now they’re concentrating on the ball game itself and really playing well.”
The Leos were unwelcoming host to Oxy in last Friday’s first game, earning a 7-5 win. La Verne scored three runs in the bottom of the first when senior second baseman Eric Smith led off with a single and then stole second base. After a walk by Alan Macleod, Ron Hubel hit into a fielder’s choice. Macleod was out at second, but Smith advanced to third.
Smith scored on an error by Oxy second baseman Tom Bonetto, giving the Leos a 1-0 lead. Jon Davenport’s single advanced Hubel to third, and consecutive singles by Ty Hashioka and Ben Cordova brought in two more runs. The Tigers handed La Verne a run in the second inning before scoring its first run in the third to make the score 4-1, Leos.
Oxy added a run in the top of the fourth, and La Verne added two of its own in the bottom half of the same inning. With La Verne leading 6-2, the Tigers knocked out starting pitcher Tim Wells with two runs in the sixth and one more in the seventh. Wells pitched 6 1/3 innings, scattering seven hits and striking out five.
In relief, Paul Janssen was able to shut down the Tigers the rest of the way.
The Leos added an insurance run when Hubel recorded his fourth run of the day.
Saturday’s double header was no contest. The opener was fierce, reminiscent of a jungle battle between the big cats. It ended with the sleeker Leopard outscratching the mighty Tiger, 12-5.
The Leopards scored five runs in the top of the first, but the Tigers clawed their way back for three runs in the bottom half. With two outs and the Leos holding on to a 5-3 lead, Tiger right fielder Bart Dalton decided to lash out at Leo first baseman Hashioka.
Dalton’s fly ball landed just outside of the first base line. Hashioka caught the ball and was leveled by Dalton, who was clearly beyond the base path. The play led to a bench-clearing brawl.
”Ty was about four feet outside of the baseline,” said senior pitcher Chip Porter. “He caught the ball, the guy hit him and Ty took a swipe at him. The benches cleared and after that we spanked them.”
Spanked is an understatement. La Verne saw starting pitcher Porter last only 2/3 of an inning. It responded with fireball reliever Cordova, who put on an outstanding performance, going the rest of the way. While Cordova was holding down the Tiger bats, the Leos – riding the emotional lift of the brawl – were mauling Oxy pitchers.
For the game, La Verne tallied 12 runs while pounding out 21 hits. Smith went 4 for 4 and Davenport went 3 for 6, with a home run. Hashioka, not to be forgotten, stepped on the Tigers for three hits and three runs. Cordova picked up his second win in SCIAC play, giving up two runs on six hits and striking out five.
The Leos delivered the knockout in the capper with an 11-0 decision. Smith continued to assault the Tigers with another superb outing. He went 5 for 6, with two RBIs. In all he collected nine hits on the day in only 10 at-bats. Macleod hit his ninth homer of the season, and Hashioka added one of his own. Matt Solters was the winning pitcher, recording a complete game shut-out. He allowed only four hits and struck out nine.
Wright and his men feel they are ready to take on conference rival Claremont. Today’s 3 p.m. matchup is the start of a three-game series, which will probably decide who will reign as conference champ.