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The baseball team ended its 2015 season on a high note, surpassing its original goal of winning the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship.
“Our goal every year is to win the conference and so winning the conference title at our rival school is just an awesome feeling,” assistant coach Jason Munoz said. “We played probably the best we’ve played all year that weekend.”
They then earned the opportunity to compete in the regional tournament in Texas where they took on the top seeded team, Texas-Tyler, and came out on top defeating them, 2-0. The Leopards’ regional run didn’t stop there, as they went on to power past their next opponent, Whitworth, 10-3.
“It was pretty surprising because the tail end of the season we didn’t do too well and we weren’t even sure we were going to make it to the SCIAC tournament,” senior left fielder Matt Caselli said. “I’m sure we shocked a lot of people when we went on to win SCIAC and then we went 2-0 to start off in Texas.”
Though they played their hearts out, the Leopards dropped their last two games in the regional tournament, cutting their run for the regional crown short after losing to both Trinity, 7-0, and Linfield, 7-4.
Although the games were in Texas, the Leopards felt they still had the support of the University of La Verne community behind them.
“It was a great feeling, we just felt like we represented our university across a bigger spectrum,” junior centerfielder Nolan Henley said. “It felt like a lot of people were pulling for us.”
To add to the list of Leopard victories, five members of the team were named to All-SCIAC teams.
Both junior pitcher Brett Early and junior first baseman Ben White were named to the first team.
Early led the conference with nine wins and 73 strikeouts, and White was second in the conference with 48 RBIs.
“When I got first team I was thinking like if it weren’t for my offense and the defense it could have never happened,” Early said.
Freshman pitcher Nick Byrd, senior pitcher Javi Iniguez and senior pitcher Mark Jebbia were also selected for the second team.
“It’s actually my first award I’ve won like in all conference or all league because I didn’t get any of those awards in high school so it felt pretty cool,” Byrd said. “I don’t want to wrap myself around that though because baseball is such a team game.”
Byrd ended the season with a 2.62 ERA and recorded seven saves.
Iniguez also led the nation with 16 games started, also racking up eight wins and a 4.24 ERA.
“It’s I guess a tribute to all the rehab and the hard work that I put in at the beginning of the season coming back from an injury,” Iniguez said.
Head coach Scott Winterburn was also named SCIAC Coach of the Year.
He celebrated his 15th season as head coach this year and has guided the Leopards to four conference titles.
Junior Mariano Padilla was also named to the SCIAC All-Sportsmanship team.
Senior third baseman Jared Hovsepian was also chosen for the Regional All-Tournament team after going 6-for-16 during the tournament with two RBIs and three runs scored.
“It was just basically my teammates getting on base for me and putting me in the right situations and I would rather trade winning the regional for the tournament team but it was a good feeling to go out senior year,” Hovsepian said.
White, Jebbia and Byrd were also selected for the American Baseball Coaches Association All-West Region team by the region’s coaches Wednesday.
White was selected for the second team and was also awarded the Gold Glove Award as a first baseman.
He fell just short of perfect on the field as he committed one error out of 420 total chances for a .998 fielding percentage. His one error came during the postseason, allowing him to have a perfect performance throughout SCIAC play.
Jebbia also earned a spot on the second team and Byrd was chosen for the third team.
Jebbia was selected as a utility player for the team. He recorded a 3.54 ERA and 34 strikeouts on the season and ended the year with a .306 batting average with two home runs and 29 RBIs.
The Leopards attribute their successes to team work and determination.
“My top priority was to get a hit and get on base for my guys behind me,” sophomore second baseman Andrew Douglas said. “I just started swinging the bat aggressively and getting my pitch and I think that worked well.”
As the season comes to a close, the Leopards will lose six seniors: catcher Zachary Quinones, right fielder Tyler Watkins, Jebbia, Iniguez, Hovsepian and Caselli.
“What I’m going to miss the most is probably the guys, the team,” Watkins said. “You spend so many hours with those guys from the moment you get on campus till the end of the year. You can’t really replace all those experiences because you develop such a strong bond, such a family atmosphere and I’m definitely going to miss that.”
Watkins finished with a .319 batting average, 35 runs scored and 15 RBIs.
“I think that we’ll build on this season and go even further next year,” White said.
White finished with a .386 batting average and a team high four home runs.
Although the season is over, the team is not planning on taking a break from all its hard work.
The team strives to raise the bar for their next season and hopes to have a chance to compete for the SCIAC championship once again next year and reclaim their title.
“Next season I’m looking forward to another opportunity to win another conference title and to do it all over again and keep getting wet,” junior shortstop Woody Reyes said.
Kat Simonelli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @KatSimonelli.