Associate Sports Editor
Despite many chances, the Leopards could not overcome a four-run eighth inning by the Redlands Bulldogs, falling 7-6 on Saturday at Ben Hines Field in the most important game of the season for both teams.
In a battle of the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference’s top-ranked offense and defense, Redlands and La Verne were deadlocked until a throw into the visitors’ dugout sent home the game-winning run.
“I think it was a situation late in the season where both teams are playing for first. It wasn’t a matter of guys being tight, they’re just trying too hard to finish plays,” head coach Scott Winterburn said.
La Verne quickly had the Bulldogs by the throat, jumping out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning off of a Cody Hazel double down the right field line that brought home senior third baseman Jason Munoz and junior center fielder Jacob Ludvik.
The Leopards had control of the game entering the fifth with a 3-1 lead until Bulldogs junior shortstop Chase Tucker knotted the game up with a two-out, two-run homerun that temporarily took the momentum away from the home team.
La Verne answered with three runs of their own in the sixth, coming from a pair of errors that allowed senior shortstop Sergio Munoz and senior designated hitter Joe Buckley to score before sophomore catcher Jason Moralez sent Hazel home on a RBI single.
However, the SCIAC-leading offense could not be quieted for long, scoring four runs, including the first three on a RBI single and a RBI double, before the final run scored off of a throwing error by junior second baseman Zach Canfield.
In the bottom of the eighth, the Leopards had a chance to bite back with Moralez and Canfield on base with two outs, but Bulldogs pitcher Derek Johnson successfully picked off Canfield at first to end the inning.
“I feel bad for Zach, he’s a good player. He didn’t mean to get picked off, he tried a little too hard to get to second and they ran a good pick play,” Winterburn said. “He’ll be back, he’s tough.”
With only one out remaining in the game, La Verne had their last chance to send the game to extra innings with Jason Munoz on third and a powerful Buckley at bat.
The comeback could not be completed with Buckley striking out to end the game, but not the Leopards’ season.
“We just needed big hits in big spots,” Hazel said. “We were banking on getting runners in scoring position and we didn’t bring them home.”
La Verne still has hope, needing to win their remaining four SCIAC games and hoping for Redlands to lose at least two to tie for the championship.
“You play every game like you’re still in it,” senior third baseman Jason Munoz said. “The seniors want to win the last four and go out on a high note.”
Junior pitcher Nathan Rollon led the way for the Leopards on the mound, finishing with three runs on five hits, while administering three walks and five strikeouts in six innings of work.
However, freshman pitcher Brian Tuttle was tabbed with the loss for the day, giving up three runs.
If the Leopards win out, they have a strong chance at an at-large bid for the NCAA Regionals, to be held in Texas.
La Verne enters the final weekend of SCIAC play beginning with fifth-place Claremont-Mudd-Scripps at 3 p.m. today at CMS’ Bill Arce Field.
Daniel Hargis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.