The University of La Verne baseball team nearly clinched the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title last weekend.
They almost swept Whittier. However, “almost” was not good enough as the ULV men finished second in the SCIAC standings.
“It was disappointing,” said senior outfielder Daniel Talbot. “We had a lot of opportunities to win. Many people counted us out because we have young guys on the team. So it was nice to be in the running but we just really wanted to win.”
There were only three games that stood between the ULV baseball team and shared possession of first place with Pomona-Pitzer.
Nonetheless, their second place finish is nothing to scoff at.
This season, ULV baseball made a habit of great victories, winning 15 of 21 games in conference despite their sixth place finish last year.
The Sagehens just happened to go on an eight-game winning streak that eventually led them to the top.
The games this weekend against Whittier were an exciting yet turbulent road to the finish line for the Leopards.
With two wins by mid-Saturday, it seemed they were destined for the SCIAC title.
“I thought we were in good shape coming into the third game but we just couldn’t hold on,” said senior outfielder Brad Licher.
Friday’s 5-2 win was well deserved with ULV’s strong defense.
Freshman starter Tim Jolly threw all nine innings and held the Poets to only one run in the first six innings.
The first game on Saturday was the perfect example of the nail-biting comeback.
La Verne came out with their bats swinging and the fifth inning 11-2 score made the ULV cheering section feel a little at ease about this series.
Maybe that great lead put the ULV bench a little too much at ease as the Poets decided to not stay silent on the scoreboard for much longer.
In the eighth inning, Whittier’s five runs to ULV’s 13 were not considered much of a threat.
However, the Poets answered back with six runs in the final inning but it was not enough to catch the Leopards and ULV held their lead, 13-11.
“For two hours and 30 minutes, we played a near perfect game,” said head coach Scott Winterburn. “Ten minutes of bad pitching made it look closer than it really was.”
Then, only one more win would do it for the Leopards but Whittier wasn’t about to roll over and hand the sweep to them.
This was going to be a battle.
La Verne junior Ryan Rose was the starting pitcher on this final game and he shut out Whittier for seven innings.
ULV managed to get one run in the second inning but like Whittier, they were unable to score again until the eighth.
“They threw an off-speed guy,” Talbot said. “It kinda just threw our tempo off.”
The Poets scored two runs in the top of the eighth with two hits and an error made by ULV.
La Verne outfielder Tom Nall tied it up in the bottom of the inning with a solo home run.
The score remained locked 2-2 and the game went into extra innings.
In the 11th, Whittier scored the decisive run on an RBI triple by catcher Robbie Smith.
However the Leopards also had their chances to win their final game of the season.
In the ninth and 10th innings with bases loaded, ULV was unable to score the winning run.
“We were so close,” Winterburn said. “We played very well all season, so to be 90 feet away from Regionals is very disappointing. We’ve accomplished a lot this season but to come that close is hard.”
Taryn Aguilar can be reached at email@example.com.