The La Verne baseball team’s Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship season looked just about over when they lost Saturday at Ben Hines Field, 16-8, to the Chapman Panthers. However on Monday, the Leopards were offered a bid to play in the NCAA Division III Baseball Championship Tournament in Birmingham, Alabama, keeping their tremendous season alive for at least another two games.
“We just unraveled,” head coach Scott Winterburn said. “If you would have told me we scored eight runs beforehand, I would have thought we won that game.”
The SCIAC tournament began on Thursday at Ben Hines Field when ULV dropped game one against the Cal Lutheran Kingsmen 8-4.
The Leopards went on to face the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Stags on Friday in a must win elimination game, winning 12-8 thanks to a strong pitching performance by graduate student Gerald Terry and a grand slam by sophomore outfielder Logan Reese.
Come Saturday, the two cats were ready to claw it out in another elimination game.
Sophomore pitcher Austin Klopfenstein began the game for the Leopards, but struggled on the mound, walking four batters and allowing two runs to score before being relieved by senior pitcher Ryan McLernon.
By the end of the first inning, Chapman took a 5-0 lead.
La Verne cut the Panther’s lead to three runs in the bottom of the third inning when senior second baseman Chase Siffert singled up the middle off Chapman sophomore pitcher Max Banks, bringing in freshman shortstop Ryan Vosika. Senior third baseman Cameron Slessor followed with a fielder’s choice, scoring senior infielder Anthony Salcedo.
The score was 6-2 by the top of the fifth inning and the Panthers were not done yet. Chapman scored seven runs off of six hits, including a three run homerun over the left field fence from sophomore outfielder Josh Phillips off the arm of junior pitcher Chase Pederson.
La Verne had to use three different relievers to get out of the inning and the score advanced to 13-2.
Sophomore pitcher Ethan Galindo gave up a leadoff single to sophomore infielder Austin Dudas to begin the eighth inning. Sophomore two-way player Benny Vogel relieved Galindo, but he walked Phillips and gave up a two RBI triple to senior outfielder Drake Mueller. Mueller then scored via a sacrifice fly by senior infielder Cole Minato, extending Chapman’s lead, 16-3.
Freshman pitcher Gage Stogner was handed the ball in the bottom of the eighth inning for Chapman, and La Verne took advantage of the pitching change, batting around and scoring five runs on four hits and two walks, cutting Chapman’s lead in half.
But the rally was not enough to overcome Chapman’s insurmountable 16 runs. The game came to an end when freshman pitcher Henry Chabot got Salcedo to ground into a game-ending double play.
Vosika was a bright spot for La Verne in the game, racking up three hits, one RBI and two runs scored.
“We weren’t in it from the first inning,” Vosika said. “Those five runs really took a blow to us.”
Sophomore infielder Noah Garcia shined in his first season with the Leopards, batting a .389 average, a .484 on base percentage, 58 hits and 37 RBIs.
“I loved every second of this season,” Garcia said. “We are going to build on this and prepare for what comes next.”
The Kingsmen went on to win the SCIAC tournament at Ben Hines Field directly after the La Verne game, defeating Chapman 6-2.
Senior outfielder Luke Garcia had a .385 batting average, a .479 OBP, 17 RBIs and 37 hits in his final season.
“This has been one of the greatest experiences of my life,” Garcia said. “It was really great to win the conference and it’s something I’ll never forget.”
The emotions were high, with both fans and players wiping away and holding back tears as La Verne thought they were ending their postseason run.
The Leopard’s are one of the 60 teams that will play in the tournament. They will fly to Birmingham to face the Franklin College Grizzlies (33-11) on Friday at 12:30 p.m. Pacific Standard Time in the first round of regional play.
Sydney Ferris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.