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The University of La Verne baseball team came out on top against the No. 1 seeded Texas-Tyler Patriots Wednesday, winning its first game of the NCAA Division III Regional Tournament, 2-0.
“I think it was big to get the first game out of our way and get a little bit of momentum going coming into this tournament,” assistant coach Jason Munoz said. “I think it was a good statement for us to beat the No. 1 team.”
The Leopards were ranked in the last seed going into the tournament.
“Now we’re in the winners’ bracket instead of the losers’ bracket,” junior first baseman Ben White said. “It’s good to show everyone here that even though were a lower seed in the tournament we can still play baseball, we can beat anybody.”
Junior pitcher Brett Early earned the win and pitched eight shutout innings, walking one batter and striking out four. Freshman pitcher Nick Byrd was then brought in to close out the game in the ninth.
“It was nice to get a shutout and let Byrd come in and shut the door,” Early said. “I just keep doing my thing and I know if I throw strikes I have a good chance of getting outs.”
After a scoreless first inning, the Leopards were able to get on the board in the bottom of the second.
Senior left fielder Mark Jebbia led off the inning with a double down the right field line and third baseman Jared Hovsepian then singled to left field, bringing Jebbia home.
“I was just looking for my pitch in my location and I got it and I just took a good hack and we scored, so it was a good feeling,” Hovsepian said.
Though the Leopards were in the lead, they struggled at the plate. The team tallied only six hits in all nine innings.
“Pitching wise and defensively we performed pretty well, but offensively we have a lot of room to improve,” assistant coach Mason Stoltenberg said. “Our (at bats) need to get better and we need to put them together and score more runs for our pitching staff.”
In the bottom of the sixth, White opened up the inning with a single to center field.
“In my first at bat I struck out, I had some issues seeing the change up and I was happy that my next few at bats I was able to make the adjustment and get a couple of hits,” White said.
White was then able to advance to second on an error by junior Patriots pitcher Michael Blevins, after he threw the ball past senior first baseman Garrett Nelson and into the dugout while trying to pick White off at first.
Sophomore designated hitter Jakob Thomas then hit a sacrifice fly to right field allowing White to advance to third.
Jebbia followed with a grounder to third and White was able to score on an error by Patriots senior third baseman Logan Tucker after he failed to catch Jebbia out at first to close out the inning.
Sophomore second baseman Andrew Douglas went 2-for-4 at the plate.
“I was seeing the ball well I did pretty good,” Douglas said. “Defensively I think I made some good plays that kind of changed the game but overall Brett Early did pretty good today and I had to back him up to get the win so I gotta give it to him.”
Byrd came to the mound in the top of the ninth, struck out one batter and closed out the game earning his seventh save of the season.
“Brett worked his ass off and he was using a slider effectively,” Byrd said. “It was just another game to me. I didn’t feel pressure because I’ve been there before and I like those situations.”
Though the Leopards pulled out the win, they still have some work to do.
“As a whole I think we underachieved a little bit,” junior shortstop Woody Reyes said. “Obviously we did enough and played better than our opponent but we need to do a little bit more offensively to keep rolling as a whole.”
In the next round of the double elimination tournament, the Leopards will take on Whitworth Friday at noon behind senior starter Javi Iniguez.
The game was originally scheduled for Thursday but all tournament games were postponed due to heavy rain and thunder and lightning storms on Thursday night.
“I don’t really have a set game plan I’m just gonna go out there and just do everything to improve,” Iniguez said.
Kat Simonelli can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @KatSimonelli.