Leopards miss the boat in home opener against Pirates

Sarah Van Buskirk
Editor-in-Chief 

Despite a late rally in the bottom of the ninth inning, the La Verne baseball team walked the plank in a 5-3 loss against the Whitworth Pirates Sunday afternoon at Ben Hines Field for the first game of the regular season.

Graduate student pitcher Gerald Terry opened up on the mound for the Leopards, pitching for five innings with seven strikeouts. Terry started strong in the first three innings, shutting out the Pirates.

“It feels good to be playing back at our home field. Of course, it was a tough loss, but it feels good,” Terry said. 

However, in the top of the fourth inning, Whitworth got the ball rolling when freshman outfielder Giovanni Costello drove the ball to the warning track for a triple. Two batters later, freshman catcher Zach Tincher sliced one down the right field foul line for an RBI-single and a jump on a 1-0 lead. 

Throughout the game, the Leopards struggled to round second base during their at-bats, caused by small technical mistakes as Whitworth’s pitchers only managed to produce a total of three strikeouts from two combined pitchers. 

In the top of the sixth inning, junior pitcher Jaylon Fong came in to relieve Terry, but after three batters, the bases were loaded and the Leopards were in a pinch. Tincher hit a sacrifice fly which sent freshman shortstop Austin Paul sailing to home plate and extended the Pirates’ lead to 2-0. Following up was sophomore right fielder Blake Barrett who knocked one into right field for an RBI single, which pushed the score to 3-0. 

In the top of the eighth inning, sophomore pitcher Austin Klopfenstein came in to relieve Fong but was only on the mound for two batters before head coach Scott Winterburn stepped in to talk with the infield. With a man on first and third and no outs, junior Ian Wong came from the bullpen and was able to help the Leopards by striking out two Pirate batters.

However, Pirate sophomore left fielder Elijah Tanner smacked a two-run triple into right field, which extended Whitworth’s lead to 5-0. Wong then snuffed out the Pirates’ rally by striking out senior second baseman Cameron Ley to end the half inning. 

“Pitching was decent today, but we need to come out better next time and not be as timid,” Wong said.

The top of the ninth inning was a quick 1, 2, 3 innings as sophomore pitcher Benny Vogel settled in on the rubber to close the game for La Verne. During the Leopards’ last at-bat, sophomore infielder Noah Garcia managed to reach first base on an error by Pirates junior pitcher Hunter Williams. Sophomore third baseman Cameron Slessor followed up by placing the ball into the center field gap. After an error by junior center fielder Jacob Doughty, Slessor reached third base and brought home Garcia to put the Leopards on the board for the first time all game.

“We had some good at-bats off the bench there in the last inning,” Slessor said. “Our pitchers did a good job today throwing a bunch of strikes and pitching in the zone.”

Junior pinch hitter Jack Janes continued the momentum with an RBI single to bring Slessor home, which also prompted Whitworth’s head coach C.J. Perry to the mound. After the Pirates regrouped, sophomore pinch hitter Luke Garcia singled to the pitcher, putting the Leopards at first and second. Freshman shortstop Ryan Vosika then stepped up to the plate and reached first on a fielder’s choice, which brought Janes home.

But that would be all the Leopards could muster, leaving the final score at 5-3. 

“We need to start doing the little things well,” Winterburn said. “When we break down games, we are never talking about big things, it’s always the little things, so we need to take pride and ownership in doing the little things well.”

The Leopards will face the Linfield Wildcats for a three game home stretch starting at 2 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and noon Sunday, all at Ben Hines Field.

Sarah Van Buskirk can be reached at sarah.vanbuskirk@laverne.edu.

Sarah Van Buskirk is a senior journalism major with a concentration in print and online journalism. She is the Spring 2024 editorial director for the Campus Times and has recently served as editor-in-chief, sports editor and staff writer. She is also currently a staff photographer for the Campus Times and La Verne Magazine, and a staff writer for La Verne Magazine.

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