Leopards secure thrilling Senior Day victory

Sophomore second baseman Cassandra Zapata waits for the throw to apply the tag on Whittier Poets senior shortstop Heaven Wolf in a run down during the Leopards’ game against the Poets on Friday at Campus West. Zapata went 2-for-4 at the plate to help the Leopards win in a nail-biter on Senior Day, 6-5. / photo by Jack Janes
Sophomore second baseman Cassandra Zapata waits for the throw to apply the tag on Whittier Poets senior shortstop Heaven Wolf in a run down during the Leopards’ game against the Poets on Friday at Campus West. Zapata went 2-for-4 at the plate to help the Leopards win in a nail-biter on Senior Day, 6-5. / photo by Jack Janes

Jonas Holt
Staff Writer

In a fitting finale to their season, the Leopards rallied to a dramatic 6-5 victory over the Whittier Poets on Senior Day Friday at Campus West. This marked the first game of a three-game series, with the subsequent doubleheader at Whittier on Saturday. 

“It’s about time we won a one-run ball game,” head coach Tara Anaya said. “It was our song and dance this year in losing these close games, but we were able to dial in and close it out.”

Celebrating Senior Day for the Leopards were graduate students shortstop Taylor Gray and first baseman Marissa Acosta, alongside seniors third baseman Mia Pintado and designated player Jaylene Jaloma. 

“There were a lot of emotions coming into today with it being the last home game of my career,” Gray said. “I’m just so grateful that I got to go out there with my best friends for one final time and have fun.” 

Anaya, who is interim head coach for the season, was an assistant coach in years past and has been with the seniors for every step of their journey as Leopards. 

“I’ve been with them for the last four years, since they were freshmen,” Anaya said. “I’m so proud of the women they’ve become. They have been amazing leaders.”

The game started with the Poets taking an early 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning. Despite a strong start from junior pitcher Kirstin Sanchez, a walk to junior outfielder Sara Luna and a subsequent stolen base followed by a throwing error by junior catcher Alyssa Campbell allowed the Poets to capitalize, bringing in the first run of the game.

The Leopards rallied in the bottom of the third inning with three consecutive singles from Pintado, Gray and sophomore second baseman Cassandra Zapata to load the bases with one out for junior center fielder Ashley Rodriguez. Although Rodriguez’s shallow fly out to left field didn’t result in a run, Campbell stepped up with two outs and the bases loaded, delivering a clutch double off the right field wall to give the Leopards a 3-1 lead.

Sophomore second baseman Cassandra Zapata celebrates her single by pointing to her teammates during the Leopards’ Senior Day game against the Whittier Poets on Friday at Campus West. Her single helped the Leopards get a win on Senior Day, 6-5. / photo by Jack Janes

“I feel like our underclassmen definitely said we need to do this for our seniors and send them off the right way, so they really stepped up,” Jaloma said. 

Sanchez continued to shut down the Poets with the help from her defense as Rodriguez made a diving catch in center field to end the top of the fourth inning.

The Leopards’ momentum continued in the bottom of the fourth inning, as Acosta’s leadoff single sparked another offensive flurry. With consecutive hits loading the bases once more, Pintado’s sacrifice fly and Gray’s double down the third base line extended the Leopards’ lead to 5-1. 

In the top of the fifth inning, Whittier sophomore outfielder Lucy Brooks led off with a double, followed by an error from Gray, putting Poets on first and third with one out. A sacrifice bunt from junior outfielder Sara Luna brought in a run, and an errant throw by Acosta scored another run, making it a 5-3 game. Despite the pressure, Zapata’s lineout catch stopped the Poets’ momentum. 

Poets senior first baseman Emily Adkinson led off the sixth inning with a double off the center field wall, igniting the Poets’ offense. Senior third baseman Marissa Flynn’s single, coupled with a fielding error from junior outfielder Sydney Diaz, advanced runners and allowed a run to score, tying the game at 5-5. 

Anaya turned to sophomore pitcher Jaidyn Alvarez from the bullpen, who effectively shut down the Poets to maintain the tie.

In the bottom of the sixth inning, Pintado’s single into left center and Gray’s infield single set the stage for a critical moment. 

“I felt I was in a perfect position to get the rally going and to score that crucial run,” Pintado said. “These are the ones that mean the most because of our struggles in one-run games.”

With Gray on first and Pintado on second, Zapata hit a ground ball to Flynn. Flynn’s overthrow of first base allowed Pintado to score, giving the Leopards a 6-5 lead. Gray rounded third base and was caught in a pickle and tagged out, leaving two outs for Rodriguez with Zapata on third. 

Rodriguez flew out, leaving the Leopards just three outs away from securing a win on senior day.

Freshman pitcher Jada Coria came in for the save in the bottom of the seventh for the Leopards. She dominated the frame with a fly out to Rodriguez for the first out, followed by another fly out to Diaz for the second out. 

With Coria and the Leopards just one out away from victory, a pop out in foul territory caught by Campbell sealed the game, securing a thrilling 6-5 win.

Following their Senior Day triumph, the Leopards faced a challenging doubleheader against Whittier on Saturday, where they lost both games. This outcome marked the conclusion of their season with a final record of 13-24 overall and 7-14 in Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference play. 

“The seniors this year have really paved the way for everyone in the program,” Anaya said. “With a young team returning next year, they know the standard now and what needs to be done.”

“This program has meant everything to me,” Jaloma said. “I can’t thank my coaches enough for giving me the opportunity to play softball here.”

Despite the setbacks, standout players Zapata, Gray and junior outfielder Angelina Alderete earned all-conference honors for their outstanding contributions throughout the season.

“This program has meant so much to me,” Pintado said. “La Verne has shaped me into the woman I am today and it’s just so much fun being a Leopard.” 

Jonas Holt can be reached at jonas.holt@laverne.edu.

Sophomore second baseman Cassandra Zapata makes the catch at the edge of the infield dirt in the Leopards’ Senior Day game against the Whittier Poets on Friday at Campus West. The Leopards won, 6-5. / photo by Jack Janes

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.

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.

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