Sophomore pitcher Cody Norman threw a complete game gem allowing three hits while striking out 14 in the Leopards’ win, 3-0, over Occidental in the first game of a doubleheader Saturday at Ben Hines Field.
The Leopards also trounced the Tigers, 13-3, in the second game.
The Leopards bounced back from Friday’s game against Occidental, where they lost a close game, 5-4.
With a pair of wins on Saturday, the team improved to 9-3 in Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference play. The Leopards are in second place in conference, trailing Redlands by three games, having played three less conference games.
“I thought he (Norman) gave our team a chance,” associate head coach Gabe Miranda said. “He gave us what we needed, a consistent effort on the mound.”
Norman came out of the gate strong, throwing strikes and getting ahead of the hitters, he was able to strike out the side to start the game.
The offense got Norman a run early in the bottom of the first with two outs. Designated hitter Jakob Thomas flared a ball to shallow right field which landed between the right fielder and second baseman. Hustling out of the box, Thomas was able to make it to second with a double.
“You never know what the ball will do,” Thomas said. “You have to run hard no matter what, whether you think you’re going to be out or safe.”
Senior first baseman Nicholas Michaels came up with two outs and hit a ball that got passed the second baseman.
The hit was scored an error, but Michaels really tagged the ball and was able to get Thomas in to score. Michaels said he changes his hitting approach with runners in scoring position.
“I lighten up on the leg kick and I’m not really cheating a pitch,” Michaels said. “I’m just trying to see something I can get a barrel on.”
Norman held down the Tigers the whole game, only facing 30 batters, three more hitters than the minimum, signaling his dominance over the Tigers’ offense.
After the first inning run, the Leopards were quieted on offense by Occidental pitcher Will Martel. He settled down after giving up the first run and held La Verne scoreless for the next four innings.
He mixed his pitches well to keep La Verne hitters off balance. Neither team was able to get a run across.
“He mixed in his fastball but he throws his off speed (pitches) for strikes,” Miranda said. “ He was doing what he does well.”
In the bottom of the sixth, Michaels singled to right center field to get the offense going. Junior outfielder Christopher Peres followed that with a single through the right side of the infield to put runners on first and third with one out.
Junior center fielder Brandon Vogel came up and hit what looked to be a double play ball, but hustled down the line and beat the throw to first, allowing Michaels to come home making it 2-0.
Norman kept on making his pitches and did not allow Occidental to even threaten to score. His curveball and fastball were his best pitches while mixing in his changeup and slider as well.
Norman threw 127 pitches in the game, but even in the late innings his pitches looked as good as it was in to start the game, as he was still overpowering the Tigers’ hitters.
“I didn’t know I was starting until about 30 minutes before the game so I didn’t have much of the game plan,” Norman said. “Locating all of my pitches is what I’ve been working on the past few weeks.”
La Verne’s third run came in the bottom of the seventh inning after junior infielder Rudy Cesarez III drew a walk and advanced to second on a wild pitch.
Junior left fielder Christopher Ligot doubled home Cesarez III to give the leopards an insurance run.
Three runs were plenty for Norman as he only allowed the Tigers three hits in the game. He finished the game by striking out the final four batters he faced to earn the win.
For his performance on Saturday, Norman earned SCIAC Athlete of the Week honors.
“I think how we won the game was bigger than getting the win itself,” Miranda said. “It gives us a better sense of how to win baseball games.”
La Verne will continue SCIAC play against Redlands at 3 p.m. Friday at Ben Hines Field.
On Saturday the Leopards will travel to Redlands for a doubleheader at 11 a.m.
Mark Acosta can be reached at email@example.com.