Leopards earn bid to NCAA tournament

Sophomore third baseman Aidan Salcedo makes a spectacular over the shoulder catch in foul territory against the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Stags on Saturday in the 2024 Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Postseason Tournament at Ben Hines Field. Salcedo finished the day with one RBI as the Leopards lost, 4-1. / photo by Jonas Holt
Sophomore third baseman Aidan Salcedo makes a spectacular over the shoulder catch in foul territory against the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Stags on Saturday in the 2024 Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Postseason Tournament at Ben Hines Field. Salcedo finished the day with one RBI as the Leopards lost, 4-1. / photo by Jonas Holt

Jack Janes
Sports Editor

Despite being eliminated from the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference playoff tournament, the No. 14 ranked Leopards earned an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament Monday morning, their 12th in appearance in the NCAA tournament in program history.

“We saw Cal Lutheran get a bid and we were nervous because we have never seen four SCIAC teams get a bid,” senior right-handed pitcher Austin Klopfenstein said. “We were all excited to have an opportunity to keep playing but everyone knew that the job isn’t done.”

The Leopards will travel to San Antonio, Texas, to face No. 13 Trinity in a two-team regional that will be a best-of-five series. Last year, the Leopards won their regional at Birmingham-Southern and was one win away from a College World Series appearance in their Super-Regional loss at East Texas Baptist. 

The road to earning their bid started with a 26-11-1 regular season record and a regular season SCIAC championship with a 18-6 conference record. Although they saw great success in the regular season, the gauntlet of the SCIAC playoff tournament did not go the Leopards’ way.

Since the Leopards won the regular season title, Ben Hines Field was the host of the SCIAC playoffs and the Leopards began the tournament with a Thursday matchup against No. 23 Cal Lutheran.

Both teams threw shutout innings until the sixth, when Cal Lutheran scored four runs in the top half of the inning, and then the Leopards responded right back with a pair of runs in the bottom half. Facing the same 4-2 deficit in the bottom of the ninth, the Leopards rallied for three runs to come from behind and win in walk-off fashion, 5-4, thanks to a sacrifice fly by sophomore catcher Nathan Perry. 

Senior outfielder Matthew Diaz went 2-for-4 and junior outfielder Logan Reese went 3-for-4 at the plate, and freshman left-handed pitcher Niko Urquidi threw 7.2 innings, giving up four runs, three earned, on eight hits, two walks and 11 strikeouts.

The next day, the Leopards squared off against No. 15 Pomona-Pitzer. This game did not bode well for the Leopards as they lost 15-0 to the Sagehens, only getting three hits as an offense and giving up 23 hits as a pitching staff. Graduate student second baseman Anthony Salcedo got two out of the three Leopards hits on the day.

Senior pitcher Chase Pederson deals from the mound in an elimination game against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps in the 2024 Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Postseason Tournament on Saturday at Ben Hines Field. Pederson, who got the start, went four innings giving up two earned runs on five hits as the Leopards lost, 4-1, to the Stags. / photo by Jonas Holt

That set the stage for an elimination game against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps on Saturday. Both pitching staffs were on top of their games, each not allowing a run until the fourth inning.

Senior left-handed pitcher Chase Pederson started on the mound for the Leopards and threw four innings, only giving up two earned runs, both coming on a single by sophomore outfielder Bryce Didrickson in the fourth inning.

The Leopards responded with a run scored on a sacrifice fly by sophomore third baseman Aidan Salcedo in the bottom half of the fourth inning. This would unfortunately be the only run in the game for the Leopards.

“We really just couldn’t finish an inning,” sophomore shortstop Ryan Vosika said. “We could get guys on, but we just couldn’t get that hit to drive them in and those hits can spark an inning, but we just didn’t get any sparks this weekend.”

Vosika was the only Leopard hitter to have multiple hits in the game, as he accounted for two out of five hits.

Claremont-Mudd-Scripps added to their lead with a two-run home run by graduate student catcher Adam Dapkewicz to make it 4-1 Stags. The score held on the rest of the way and the Leopards lost, eliminating them from the SCIAC playoff tournament.

This game was tough because I just felt like we pitched good enough to win,” head coach Scott Winterburn said. “But we just didn’t score, we didn’t score enough.”

Of the pitchers that pitched well for the Leopards, Urquidi threw two shutout innings just two days after throwing over 120 pitches in game one of the tournament.

There’s a lot of adrenaline when you go into these types of games so there wasn’t really any fatigue,” Urquidi said. “When I came back out for the second inning, I noticed I was a little tired, but during a game like that, it just kind of goes to the back of your head.”

The Leopards look to move on from the SCIAC tournament and focus on their upcoming regional at No. 13 Trinity starting at 10 a.m. PDT Friday then a doubleheader at 9 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Since it is a best-of-five series, there are games scheduled for 9 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. on Sunday if necessary.

Jack Janes can be reached at jack.janes@laverne.edu.

Jack Janes, a senior journalism major, is sports editor of the Campus Times and a staff writer for La Verne Magazine. He is also a staff photographer for both publications. He previously served as a Campus Times staff writer.

Jonas Holt is a senior journalism major with a concentration in print and online journalism. He is a staff writer and staff photographer for the Campus Times and La Verne Magazine.

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