Baseball sweeps with late inning heroics

by Eric C. Paulsen
Sports Writer

It takes a combination of things to win a baseball championship; quality pitching, timely hitting, steady defense and luck.

The 1995 University of La Verne baseball team is displaying all of these this season, earning itself the No. 1 ranking in the Division III Far West Region and an overall sixth place ranking in the nation.

The Leos earned these rankings by maintaining a Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) record of 12-0, and 19-7 overall, tops in the conference.

“Winning the conference was the ultimate goal of the team,” said Head Coach Owen Wright, “We can’t get fat, dumb, and happy now.”

He also explained how his team knows when to have fun and when to get focused for games.

“We have been emphasizing the concept that everybody plays a role for the team. Our pitching also has a lot to do with it,” added Wright on his team’s current success.

The ranking and winning streak have coaches and players thinking about a conference title and possibly a playoff berth. The last time the baseball team won the SCIAC title was in 1989.

“We are in the driver’s seat to host a post season series,” said Wright. The two teams with the best chance to play the Leos in the post season are Cal Lutheran University and the University of California at San Diego, which play each other this weekend.

This afternoon the Leos will travel to Whittier for the first of three games with the Poets. The Poets are currently in a tie with Cal Lutheran for second place in SCIAC, with a league record of 7-5, and 9-13 overall.

“The word on them [Whittier] is they are better than what their record shows,” said Wright.

For Whittier, they will be throwing their ace, senior Brandon Boettner.

“He is a pitcher who is capable of beating us. We beat him last year, 9-6, but this is another year and he has beat Cal Lutheran already this season,” said Wright.

Boettner currently has a record of 4-2 with an ERA of 2.21.

The Leos will be tested this weekend after senior center fielder Jeff Eckler decided to leave the team. This move puts a lot of pressure on freshman Ryan Jourdain, who inherits the center field duties.

“I have a lot of confidence in him,” said Wright.

Last weekend, the Leos kept their perfect mark in SCIAC alive by sweeping the University of Redlands, 11-10, 3-2 and 4-3. Redlands came into the game in second place and almost tarnished La Verne’s perfect record, however, the Leos’ late-inning heroics helped them prevail and sweep the series.

“What a series,” said Wright. “In the last two years, we have won six ball games from Redlands, with five of them being decided by one run.”

In Friday’s opener at Redlands, the Leos found themselves trailing 7-3, heading into the eighth inning, before they batted around to take the lead, 11-7. But in the bottom of the eighth, the Bulldogs responded with three runs, making the score 11-10. However, the Leos were able to hold off the Bulldogs and win by one run.

Helping the Leos’ cause were sophomore shortstop Brock Whobrey and Jourdain, both with multi-hit games. Junior left fielder David Madrid drove in three runs and played a key role in the Leos’ eighth inning comeback.

“The guys who are playing regularly are really hitting well,” said Wright.

Senior right-hander J.D. Romero collected the win, raising his record to 4-2. Coming in to collect his first save of the season was junior George Garcia.

When the two teams resumed the series on Saturday at Ben Hines Field, both games of the doubleheader were decided by one run, superb pitching duels between the two teams.

“The old adage that good pitching beats good hitting, played itself out in this series,” said Wright.

The first game matched senior right-hander Greg Vargas and Bulldog southpaw Scott Sasser. Vargas scattered five hits over nine innings, allowing just two runs. He struck out nine and earned the complete game victory.

Wright was not surprised by his pitcher’s performance, pointing out that he has walked only nine batters in 38.2 innings this season.

In the first inning, the Leos scored when senior designated hitter Jeff Polinsky singled to right, moving junior second baseman Mike Smith to third. On the next pitch, Polinsky stole second. On the catcher‘s throw to second, Smith stole home, scoring the first run and setting the tone for the game. Both teams would have to work for their runs.

The Leos fell behind again in this game, but in the seventh, sophomore right fielder Seth Marrs smashed an opposite-field home run to knot up the score at 2-2.

“It [falling behind] has become a trademark of ours. There is a good side in that the team never feels out of game,” explained Wright.

The late-inning heroics continued for the Leos in their final at-bat. With the bases loaded and the scored tied at 2-2, Whobrey drove in the winning run, to give the Leos a 3-2 victory.

In the second game, the Leos again were forced to use their final at-bat to decide the game and complete the sweep of Redlands.

However, highlights in this game were overshadowed by a call by the umpire that ignited the Redlands’ bench, causing the umpires to eject two of Redlands coaches, Leon Baham and Chadd Cook.

The play in question came in the seventh inning, with the bases loaded, a full count on the batter and the score tied 3-3. Redlands freshman Justin Lewis stepped out of the batter’s box and was immediately called out for the final out of the inning.

The NCAA instituted a rule to speed up its games, stating that anytime a strike or ball is called, the batter must stay in the box. If the batter steps out, he will be assessed a strike. In Lewis’ case, it was the the third strike, which killed Redlands’ upset hopes.

Credit should be giving to senior catcher Erik Larson for being alert and showing the umpire that Lewis has committed a mental mistake. Larson collected four hits in the doubleheader to go along with his subtle reminder to the umpire.

“That rule is really going to affect a ball game and it did last Saturday,” said Wright. “The umpire made the right call and Redlands took exception to the call.”

La Verne took advantage of the Redlands emotional outburst and promptly loaded the bases, bringing up Polinsky, who then drove home the winning run.

The late-inning excitement overshadowed the strong pitching performance from senior southpaw Jeff Doen, who threw a one-hitter into the sixth before getting into trouble. Doen ended the day with a win, giving up three hits and striking out four.

Driving in runs for the Leos were Vargas, Polinsky, Marrs and Larson.

The Leos play host to the Whittier Poets tomorrow with the first pitch scheduled for 11 a.m.

Eric C. Paulsen, Editor in Chief
Eric C. Paulsen

Latest Stories

Related articles

Baseball sweeps doubleheader to take series from Sagehens

The No. 11 ranked Leopards won both games of their doubleheader by scores of 12-1 and 11-6 to clinch a series win against the No. 16 ranked Pomona-Pitzer Sagehens on Saturday at Ben Hines Field.

SoCal baseball fans excited for new season

California is home to five major league baseball teams. However, Los Angeles is the only city in the state with two baseball teams, the Dodgers and the Angels.

Baseball splits doubleheader against Pacific

The No. 14 ranked Leopards wrapped up their non-conference series against the Pacific University Boxers on Friday at Ben Hines Field, winning the first game, 7-5, and losing the second, 16-5, in seven innings.

Leopards come from behind and walk-off Tigers

Sophomore shortstop Ryan Vosika’s walk-off single capped a ninth-inning, 7-6, come-from-behind victory for the No. 14 Leopards to complete the sweep against the Occidental Tigers on Saturday at Ben Hines Field.