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The La Verne baseball team came out strong against the Occidental Tigers, winning 2-1 in game one of the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Postseason Tournament on Friday, but fell flat on Saturday – falling to Chapman 4-1, then to Cal Lutheran 5-1 in an elimination game.
Occidental ended with a 28-12 overall record and tied with the Leopards for second in SCIAC, but was ranked the third seed due to losing one more conference game than La Verne.
Both teams came into Friday afternoon leading in SCIAC in every offensive category.
However, both teams battled in a pitching duel throughout the game, cooling off both offenses.
The pitching matchup was between La Verne’s junior pitcher Cody Norman and Occidental’s SCIAC Pitcher of the Year, junior Nolan McCarthy.
Head coach Scott Winterburn said that the game plan going into the game was to rely on the pitching game early on.
“There’s no tricks at this time of the year, we’ve already played them three times,” Winterburn said. “It was really to throw a lot of strikes and utilize all of Cody’s pitches; keep him in for as long as possible.”
Norman picked up his eighth win of the year in his second complete game, striking 13 batters, allowing four hits and two walks.
He emphasized the importance of the catcher and pitcher relationship during the game, which also helps composure.
“Listening to my catcher, he keeps me focused back there,” Norman said. “He does a really good job making sure that on the next pitch, I focus on what I need to do every pitch.”
After Norman threw a 1-2-3 first inning, senior second baseman Ryan Galan led off with an infield single, stealing second base and extending his season total of 27 stolen bases, which is a SCIAC first.
Two batters later, junior catcher Adam Santa Cruz grounded out to second base to bring home Galan, giving the Leopards a 1-0 lead to close the first.
Norman didn’t allow a hit until the third inning, when freshman shortstop Michael Ingram doubled to left field.
Despite Occidental having men on first and third with only one out, Norman retired the next two batters to keep La Verne’s lead alive.
For Occidental, McCarthy didn’t give up another hit until the fourth inning, when senior designated hitter Ryan Aguilar singled to right field.
Senior left fielder Chris Ligot popped up to second to end the inning, with La Verne still up 1-0.
Neither team would give up a run until the later innings. Despite a strong pitching performance from Norman, Occidental rallied out of a cold streak during the top of the eight inning, when sophomore first baseman Jake Fredrickson hit a two-out home run off a 3-2 pitch to tie the game up at 1-1.
The Leopards also hit a spark in the ninth inning, when senior right fielder and SCIAC Player of the Year Chris Peres led off with a triple down the left field line.
“We needed a lead-off man on base right there and I needed to get a little spark to my team,” Peres said. “I saw the pitch out over the middle of the plate and I just tried to put a good swing on it and I got lucky and found a hole.”
The Tigers intentionally walked senior pinch hitter Aaron Fong and Ligot to load up the bases.
During the next at bat, senior third baseman Lukas Granado hit the game winning single to right field give La Verne the victory, 2-1.
“Whoever stays composed is going to win that; I tried to stay as composed as possible.” Granado said. “I knew he was going to try to come after me, so I tried to play short to the ball.”
With the victory, the Leopards hit the road to face Chapman on Saturday in a 4-1 losing effort, forcing the Leopards to play in an elimination game against Cal Lutheran for game three.
The Kingsmen defeated the Leopards 5-1, ending their season with a 30-3 overall record and 16-8 in SCIAC play.
Nicolette Rojo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org