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The La Verne baseball team defeated No. 1 seeded Cal Lutheran, 4-2, after junior shortstop Woody Reyes drove in two runs on a single to second in the top of the seventh, ensuring the Leopards’ win and claiming their title as Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference champions Sunday at Ullman Stadium in Thousand Oaks.
“We played pretty well this weekend,” head coach Scott Winterburn said. “We beat a very good Cal Lu team and you gotta tip your cap to that, they won the regular season crown so we beat a good team.”
The Leopards dropped their first game, 14-0, but they had another chance at the title and came back swinging, claiming their first SCIAC championship title since the postseason tournament was introduced in 2013.
The team has now earned a bid to advance to the 2015 NCAA Division III West Regional tournament. This is the first time they have advanced to Division III regional playoffs since 2012.
“When you lose a score like that there’s no rhyme or reason, so you just let it completely go, it has nothing to do with the next game and I feel like we did that, we just let it go and got to the next moment,” Winterburn said.
La Verne came into the tournament as the fourth seed and played out a true underdog victory, winning three of their four postseason games after coming off of three tough regular season losses during the previous weekend.
“I think its kind of a blessing; we really struggled in the first game and got a second opportunity to start 0-0 again,” Reyes said.
Cal Lutheran came out on top early in the second game, after sophomore third baseman Kyle Sanchez singled to right field driving junior center fielder Justin Cana home in the bottom of the first.
Sanchez then singled through the right side in the bottom of the second, putting the Kingsmen up, 2-0.
The Leopards answered back in the third, after sophomore designated hitter Jakob Thomas hit a sacrifice fly to right field, bringing senior catcher Zach Quinones home and cutting the deficit to one.
It was not until the top of the seventh that the Leopards ensured their lead and eventually the win.
La Verne took advantage of senior Cal Lutheran pitcher Scott Peters’ control issues during the seventh inning and found themselves in control of the game.
Peters managed to get sophomore second baseman Andrew Douglas out on a fly ball to center field to start off the inning, but he started to lose control after he hit junior first baseman Ben White during the following at bat.
He then gave up a single to Thomas and later walked Jebbia to load the bases for the Leopards.
Junior center fielder Nolan Henley then hit a bases loaded single to left field driving Thomas home and tying the game at two.
“I’ve been seeing the ball off Peters so well that it just came natural, it was weird,” Henley said.
“I was actually surprised that they left Peters in because I’ve been hitting well off him all year and I just took my normal approach and it paid off.”
The Kingsmen missed their opportunity to end the inning, after they caught senior left fielder Mark Jebbia and senior third baseman Jared Hovsepian in a run down between home and third base and third and second.
Jebbia and senior Cal Lutheran catcher Spencer DuBois both dove for third and Jebbia was called safe, allowing the Leopards to stay in the inning.
Reyes then stepped up to the plate and hit a single to second base, bringing Jebbia and Hovsepian home, putting the Leopards up by two.
“It’s probably the high point in my life so far,” Reyes said. “I was fortunate to come up in a spot like that and I just wanted more than anything to help this team win and keep playing and I was able to do exactly that and give us what we needed.”
Freshman pitcher Nick Byrd came in at the top of the second, replacing sophomore pitcher Alex Bernstein who had pitched during the previous game.
Byrd pitched 7 2/3 innings striking out four and giving up only four hits.
“I wanted it to be my game,” Byrd said.
“I was telling everybody in the dugout this is my game.”
No runs were scored in the innings that Byrd pitched.
“I have to tip my hat to all my outfielders and all my infielders because they were making plays left and right for me,” Byrd said.
Henley and Douglas both went 2-for-4 at the plate in the second game.
“I was thinking just get on,” Douglas said. “We have three, four, five hitters coming up, our big guys, so I’ve just gotta get on so they can hit me in.”
La Verne defeated Cal Lutheran 12-3 in their first game of the postseason tournament Friday.
They then went on to face the University of Redlands Saturday and came out victorious once again, defeating the Bulldogs, 5-2.
The Leopards will travel to the West Regional tournament May 13-16 at the University of Texas at Tyler.
The NCAA will announce their regional opponents Sunday.
“We got extremely wet today and now we’re fortunate enough to have earned an invitation to keep getting wet in Texas,” Reyes said.
Kat Simonelli can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @KatSimonelli.