In what turned out to be a gloomy weekend, the La Verne baseball team shined last weekend playing their most important series of the season, winning two dramatic games against conference foe Whittier.
After losing the opening game on Friday, the Leopards won both games of their doubleheader on Saturday.
With the two wins La Verne moved into the third place spot in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
“What impressed me was our character,” head coach Scott Winterburn said. “We kept working and kept battling to overcome deficits and adversity.”
In Friday’s opening game of the series the Leopards got off to their usual quick start by scoring in each of the first three innings and jumping out to an early 3-1 lead.
In the fifth inning, La Verne added two runs courtesy of junior third baseman Mike Moretti’s double.
ULV’s lead lasted close to an inning and a half as the Poets answered back with four runs in the sixth inning to tie the game 5-5.
The Leopards reclaimed the lead in the next inning and scored another run with senior second baseman Trevor Boucher’s RBI double.
The back and forth scoring ensued as Whittier scored two runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to win the game 7-6.
Sophomore pitcher Tim Jolly pitched eight solid innings striking out nine batters.
“I was surprised how quickly our offense got into gear,” Jolly said. “I think they got us going early.”
In game one of Saturday’s doubleheader at Ben Hines Field, the Leopards’ pitching and defense was dominant while their offense took the backseat.
ULV’s junior starting pitcher Jesse Sweet was dominant throughout the game, allowing only one earned run and striking out six batters in eight innings.
La Verne scored first in the sixth inning off senior designated hitter Scott Marcus’ home run which drove in two runs.
Heading into the top of the ninth with a 2-0 lead, the Leopards were looking to close the game out but Whittier was not ready to give in.
ULV’s senior pitcher Jimmy Wilfong replaced Sweet in the top of the ninth and the Poets scored two runs to tie the game and stay alive for at least another half inning.
In the bottom of the ninth with one out and no runners on, sophomore first baseman Jon-Michael Hattabaugh hit a walk off home run to right center to win the game for his team. Wilfong got his second win of the season.
“We really had to win the first game and we battled,” Sweet said.
Game two of Saturday’s doubleheader was filled with big offensive plays by both teams as the thrill of game one and the importance of the series filled the atmosphere with excitement.
It was as if both teams fully understood the value of each pitch and at bat. The Leopards and the Poets each scored two runs in the first inning to get their teams started.
La Verne briefly took the lead in the third by scoring three runs on three hits.
The Leopards’ lead did not last long as Whittier bounced back in a big way in the top of the fourth inning, scoring seven runs to take a 9-5 lead.
This inning was filled with miscues by the ULV’s fielding and pitching.
After the Poets scored another run in the fifth inning to stretch the lead to 10-5, the Leopards fought back.
ULV would proceed to score three runs in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings to eventually win the game 14-11 as Whittier could not match the offensive productivity of La Verne.
Offensively the Leopards were led by sophomore right fielder Mike Belcher who went 3-for-5 with three RBIs.
ULV’s sophomore pitcher Grant Wheatley pitched the eighth and ninth innings without allowing a hit, or any runs scored. Wheatley earned his first win of the season.
“I am concerned about our approach as a pitching staff,” Winterburn said. “Getting ready for this stretch run we need to find consistency on the mound and prepare defensively.”
“As a pitching staff we are taught to go right at batters,” Sweet said. “I think we were too timid and not as aggressive with our pitches as we should’ve been.”
With the doubleheader sweep, the Leopards’ record now stands at 14-10-1 overall and 5-3-1 in SCIAC play.
ULV continues conference play at 3 p.m. today at Ben Hines Field against Caltech. The Leopards will head to Pasadena for a doubleheader tomorrow starting at 11 a.m. before facing a three-game series against Chapman next weekend.
“Now that we’re in third place (in SCIAC), Caltech should be a sweep and put us in a good position to win conference,” Jolly said. “I’m 100 percent confident.”
Richard Lugo can be reached at email@example.com.