It was a battle of apex predators for the La Verne Leopards baseball team in their Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference opener against the Chapman Panthers, who are ranked 20th nationally in Division III. Ultimately the Leopards came out victorious, winning the match-up 5-3 and captured their seventh straight win of the season.
“It was a good college baseball game, it was 5-3 and we saw a little bit of everything,” head coach Scott Winterburn said. “It was just a good, fun game to be part of this early in the season.”
The game did not start off well for the Leopards as Chapman scored first in the 1st inning with an RBI through a single by senior outfielder Tristan Kevitch to bring his teammate senior outfielder Alex Tsuruda on third base home.
Chapman maintained a 1-0 lead until the bottom of the third inning when La Verne freshmen first basemen Tanner Siffert hit a RBI off a double, down the left foul line to bring junior short-stop Jacob Benson home to tie the game up.
Benson, then at the bottom of the fourth, had his own RBI off a single to bring home both freshmen first basemen John Bike and senior outfielder Chris Ligot making the score 3-1.
“I felt pretty good, we needed a ball in play with two strikes and I got a good piece of it, you know whatever helps the team,” Benson said.
Ligot also contributed an RBI off a single to right field with bases loaded bringing home Tanner Siffert and senior utility player Christopher Peres giving the leopards a four point lead.
“Really I was just trying to do a job,” Ligot said. “Just trying to get a ball out there in the outfield where they could tag up, just trying to get the first thing available and not think too much about it, just so happened that the ball landed and we scored two runs.”
Chapman responded with two more RBIs in the top of the sixth inning.
Sophomore outfielder Henry Zeisler hit a triple to center field, which brought in freshmen infielder Miguel Cebedo from second base.
The final score for the Panthers came from an RBI off a double hit to center field by sophomore infielder Mark Cheli to bring home Zeisler.
Defensively the Leopards performed well with three clean innings in the top of the fifth under junior pitcher Cody Norman and the other two in the top of the seventh and eighth innings under fellow junior pitcher Devon Burhans.
“It felt really good because that’s exactly what the team needed from me after my previous inning,” Burhans said. “I just wanted to go in and give our team a chance to fight and put some zeroes in there”
The game ended with the Leopards canceling Chapman in the top of the ninth inning.
Peres led the defense in closing out the game.
After two outs off a caught pop fly and an out at second base, it came down to Peres and junior catcher Kevin Gregersen at bat.
The game was down to the wire as the Leopard defense stalled, with two strikes and two balls on the board.
On the next pitch, Gregersen hit a single to second and was taken out at first, leading the Leopards to complete the upset in a 5-3 victory over the Panthers.
Winterburn also credited those three particular innings as an integral part of the team’s upset win.
“I mean those are really big in a college baseball game because that usually doesn’t happen, its pretty offensive in college,” Winterburn said. “You’re usually looking at four or five batters an inning so to have a couple of clean innings really put some distance under out belts to get into the later innings.”
Earlier last month, the baseball team traveled to Arizona to compete in the Cactus Classic Tournament. At the tournament, La Verne would drop their first game against Pacific Lutheran 6-4, but would go on to win their next three games in dominating fashion 12-2, 17-1, 16-4 against George Fox, Pacific and Texas-Dallas respectively.
After sweeping Centenary in a three game series following the tournament (8-0, 6-4, 7-5), the Leopards looked to continue their win streak.
But following their initial win over Chapman, the Leopards went on to play Chapman again in a doubleheader on the road the next day where they would lose both games 4-3 and 7-1, ending their seven-game win streak.
The team now looks to transition into SCIAC play with a record of 7-3 overall.
Currently at 1-2 in SCIAC, La Verne is ranked at fifth – just outside of the top four of Chapman, Pomona-Pitzer, Cal Lutheran and Whittier, all sporting 2-1 records.
Their next competition will be at 2:30 p.m. Friday at Ben Hines Field against Pomona-Pitzer.
Dominic Honoré can be reached at email@example.com.