The baseball team was unable to hold onto first place in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and now find themselves in the No. 2 seed of the conference postseason tournament after they were swept by the Chapman Panthers in their final series of the regular season.
The sweep capped off a 10-game winning streak for the Panthers, who made a late charge to take the SCIAC crown from the Leopards, who had been in first place all season.
The first game was a 17-5 loss during La Verne’s senior night May 6, followed by two losses on the road in Saturday’s doubleheader, 10-2 and 9-1.
At senior night, the Leopards honored 10 graduating seniors in the loss.
“Yeah, I expected us to be where we are now (with a playoff berth clinched). We expect to have a good year, every year,” assistant head coach Mason Stoltenberg said. “With us having the opportunity to play, controlling your own destiny is all you can hope for, beginning of the year or at the end of the year.”
Starting for the Leopards was senior pitcher Sean Holt, who had a record of 10-1 going into the game.
“I’m glad I was able to be a part of this many wins for the team. I feel that both myself, Gerry (Terry), Bennet (Vogel), and Alfredo (Frey) have done a lot to put our team where we are right now,” Holt said. “Us four have worked so hard to get us in the position we are now, excited to go further in the season.”
The game started promising for the Leopards. In the first inning, senior first baseman Tanner Siffert doubled down right field and then scored on a hit from senior right fielder Brandon Shiota. With the Leopards on the board, their defense held the following inning with a Holt strikeout and two outs.
It was in the third inning when the Panthers answered back with two runs of their own. However, senior center fielder Jacob Barriga opened the trip to the plate in the bottom of the third with a booming double to left center field. With Barriga on second and Shiota up to the plate, La Verne was able to tie it up with Shiota’s single and second RBI of the day.
“I attribute my season to my coaches,” Shiota said. “They’ve been telling me to make the adjustments and finally this season I gave them all my trust and put it all on the table. The game is more like a game of chess. When you start anticipating moves it is easier than you think. You can know what moves they are gonna make before they make them.”
The Panthers’ offense began to pick up in the fourth then really caught fire in the fifth inning after they got the ball rolling with home runs by senior catcher Cooper Foard and sophomore designated hitter A.J. Anzai. Chapman scored three runs in each of the following two innings and the Leopards were down 9-2 at the end of the sixth inning with no answer.
The Leopards’ defense was not enough to stop the streaking Panthers. The largest deficit during the game came in the eighth inning when the Leopards were down 17-2 as Chapman earned seven runs off of seven hits.
The Leopards’ offense caught a spark by scoring three runs in the final inning but it was not enough to extinguish the Panthers. The three runs came off of three hits from Shiota, senior first baseman John Bike and freshman pinch hitter Malachi Francois.
The Leopards fell at home, 17-5, in eight innings.
“The mentality for us really is to take it one game at a time because obviously this one was a tough one. Tomorrow we have to look ahead,” Siffert said. “If we play the brand of baseball we know how to play, play off the foundations of our program and everything the coaches have been teaching us. Then we are a hard team to beat and we can hang with the best of them.”
The Leopards will open the SCIAC postseason tournament against the third seed Pomona-Pitzer Sagehens at 3 p.m. Friday at Ben Hines Field. Chapman will host fourth-ranked Cal Lutheran at the same time. The semifinal and final games will be played Saturday at Chapman.
Eric Esquibel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.