The Leopards’ hopes of becoming conference champions ended with a heartbreaking walk-off 8-7 loss to the Chapman Panthers in the first round of the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament May 6.
The following day, in the second round of the SCIAC playoff tournament, the Leopards were unable to hold off the Redlands Bulldogs in their final game of the season at home, 8-5.
“It was a hard way to end the season but it doesn’t take away from all of the good things we accomplished this season,” sophomore center fielder Haylee Hsieh said. “We brought a lot of energy and heart into the playoffs and as the games went on we got tired and it showed through our pitching, fielding, and hitting.”
In the first round of the tournament, the Leopards met with the Panthers again after winning just one game over them in their regular season series.
The Leopards were first to get on the board after junior catcher Natalia Aguilera sent the ball down right field for a first inning double, driving in junior shortstop Taylor Gray to score.
The following inning the Panthers’ offense answered back with a run of their own, taking advantage of an error by La Verne sophomore third baseman Julie Contreras.
The third inning was busy for both teams.
Gray opened up the top of the inning with a double. Senior first baseman Katheryn Navarro hit a double to drive in Gray to score and then scored on a sacrifice fly by Aguilera.
The lead was short-lived however, as the Panthers tied the game with their next turn on offense.
At the bottom of the fourth inning, the Panthers took the lead by scoring two more runs to take a 5-3 lead.
In the top of the fifth inning, Panther senior pitcher Jillian Kelly walked Gray and Navarro in the first two at-bats. Then with a double by Aguilera and an error by Chapman senior center fielder Allie Tajii brought them in to score and tie up the game. A sacrifice fly by junior first baseman Janisa Rojo brought home Aguilera and gave the Leopards a 6-5 lead.
The sixth inning, the Leopards tacked on another run after Gray hit her second double of the night, allowing sophomore right fielder Cailin Bliss to score.
The Panthers’ offense got three hits off of Navarro at pitcher and got a run at the end of the sixth inning to move the score to 7-6.
In the bottom of the seventh inning and pitching for the win, Navarro got two quick outs before the sky fell in.
Panther freshman pinch hitter Samantha Kennedy was hit by a pitch, then freshman shortstop Grace Fosselman and Tajii hit two singles to tie the score. Freshman designated player Miranda Murphy followed with a single to drive in Fosselman and seal the 8-7 walk-off win for Chapman.
“I think we can be even better next season, I don’t think the thing that affected us this season was anything talent-wise but just the cards we were dealt, with the COVID thing happening and coach (Dennis Blas) sitting out (due to a heart attack),” junior starting pitcher Rachel Rubio said. “We are ready to come back next season and show everybody this is La Verne.”
The Leopards ended their season with a record of 26-16 overall and 13-8 in SCIAC. They had a team batting average of .301 and 215 runs scored.
Eric Esquibel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.