by Nate Silva
After their third straight year of controlling the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, the softball team took its game to Tacoma, Wash., to battle it out with the top teams in their region. After two days and four games, the women would return to La Verne with a solid third place finish.
The Leopards entered the double-elimination tournament ranked second in the region and were pitted against the number three team, East Texas Baptist University. In last Friday afternoon’s contest, the Leopards would be shut down by their opposition’s dominant pitching.
The powerful offense that had outscored its SCIAC opponents in the regular season by a total of 165-17, could only muster four scattered hits against East Texas Baptist’s pitching staff.
Starter Alicia Taylor allowed only three hits and one walk in her 5.2 innings of work. Her reliever would fair just as well, giving up just one hit in her 1.1 innings.
Sue Whitcher, ULV first baseman and pitcher, said Taylor had great “movement and speed change.”
In contrast, La Verne’s pitching struggled to contain the opposing bats as starter Mandy Tillema, who entered the game with a 21-3 mark, gave up seven runs in her 5.2 innings pitched.
The contest was a battle through five innings, until the designated visitors, the Lady Tigers, sent 12 batters to the plate in the top of the sixth.
Tillema gave up four singles and four walks, until Chrissy Zehrbach was called upon to stop the run. Zehrbach gave up two singles before getting a ground ball out to end the rally. The inning ended with the Lady Tigers scoring six runs on six hits and leaving three runners on base.
The loss moved the Leopards into the consolation bracket, where another loss would end their season.
Players knew they had to fight back to keep their season alive. Despite not having been in this situation before this season, the Leopards responded like veterans.
In their second game of the day ULV would face Trinity University. The Leopard offense would regain its momentum in this contest as it would waste no time getting on the board in this game.
Against less dominating pitching than they faced earlier in the day, the Leopards scored in the top of the first, as Sue Whitcher’s double scored Libby Ramos.
Ramos would contribute again to the Leopard run production in the third inning as she homered to put ULV ahead again, 2-1.
Trinity’s big offensive surge would come in the fourth where they scored three runs on five hits giving them a 2-4 advantage.
The Leopards, facing elimination, were not done. Whitcher’s second double of the day sparked a one run sixth inning, and in the seventh she would go deep to tie the game.
In the third extra frame Gina Meza’s leadoff double would be followed by Whitcher’s third RBI as Meza would cross the plate as the eventual winning run. A single by Andee Tarazon would bring Whitcher around to score an insurance run before Mandy Tillema would close out the game stranding two Trinity base runners in the bottom of the tenth.
Awaiting the Leopards the next day in the sixth game of the tournament was the University of Wisconsin-Superior, who entered with a 20-15 record.
Leopard pitching failed to match its SCIAC success again, but was enough to earn an 8-6 victory.
Tillema struggled with control in her 2.1 innings, but reliever Chrissy Zehrbach would throw 4.2 innings of scoreless ball.
After the Yellowjackets put three runs on the board in both the first and the third, the Leopards offense would take their turn.
In the top of the fourth ULV would produce two runs on consecutive singles by Kim Schrepfer, Jackie Russo and Brandi Thompson, Schrepfer and Russo would then score on back-to-back fielders choices with Christine Paknik and Zehrbach collecting the RBIs.
Still down by four runs La Verne would score with power and production in the seventh. Combining a walk, a single and an RBI double by Meza, the Leopards would begin to erase the deficit. The next batter, Whitcher, cleared the bases with her tenth home run of the season, tying the game at six.
Playing unselfish ball gave La Verne the lead as Thompson and Zehrbach laid down sacrifice bunts and Tarazon singled through the left side to score Schrepfer. That inning gave the Leopards an 8-6 lead that they would not relinquish.
This win set up a second meeting with East Texas Baptist University in as many days for the Leopards.
The team felt that they could make the necessary adjustments to handle the Lady Tiger this time.
“We were more confident we could win because we’d seen them before,” said Whitcher.
Their second meeting would prove to be much more of a contest than Friday’s game, but again the Lady Tigers would prove to be too much.
The Leopard staff had an easier time containing the ETBU’s bats in their second meeting as three pitchers combined to give up only two earned runs. In the field though, defensive errors would cost the team six more runs.
In the second inning, down by one Thompson drove in Schrepfer and Paige Hanawalt to go up 2-1. ULV could not hold on to its lead as a throwing error in the top of the fourth and a home run gave East Texas Baptist a 5-2 lead.
The seesaw battle went on in the fifth when La Verne’s Schrepfer’s single scored two to bring the Leopards within one.
The defensive woes continued in ETBU’s half of the sixth. Though Tillema only gave up two hits, two errors gave the Lady Tigers three runs and a four-run lead that the Leopards would not overcome.
In the Leopards’ final chance in the tournament and the season, Meza led off the seventh with a single and reached second on a wild pitch. She would come around to score on a throwing error to pull ULV to within three. That would be as close as they would come as Alicia Taylor, who shutout the Leopards in their first meeting, would retire the next two batters to end the game.
In the championship game the Lady Tigers would fall 3-1 to the host Lutes of Pacific Lutheran University who advanced through the regional tournament without a loss.
ULV was well-represented on the All-Tournament Team as three players were named to the roster of 15.
Adding to her SCIAC Player of the Year title was Sue Whitcher, who went 7-for-15 in the tournament with a 5-for-5 performance coming in the win against Trinity. Also honored were Gina Meza and Chrissy Zehrbach.
Meza went 6-for-14 at the plate and played solid defense tabbing three putouts and 20 assists in four games.
Zehrbach was honored for her work in the pitcher’s circle. In 12.2 innings she gave up 12 hits and one walk, while striking out seven.
She also recorded one of ULV’s two wins and held a 1.48 earned run average in the tournament.