Chants of “Leos” echoed loudly around Mt. SAC’s Mazmanian Field before the Leopard baseball team took on fellow Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title contender Cal Lutheran in a doubleheader Saturday.
The team repeated the phrase at the end, but with smiles and cheers of joy coming off of a weekend sweep of the Kingsmen: an 8-7 comeback win Friday, and 6-3 and 13-3 victories Saturday.
The sweep, their second in three weeks, lifted them to a three-game lead in the SCIAC standings with seven games remaining.
“I think we are a lot tougher as a team than anyone else we’ve played so far,” junior first baseman Michael Stewart said. “We proved that this weekend.”
Cal Lutheran opened a 2-0 lead in the top of the third inning before La Verne responded in bottom half with three runs of their own.
The Kingsmen landed five base runners in scoring position across the next two innings, but the La Verne defense prevented them all from scoring.
Sophomore Kevin Knight started the game and completed 4 and 1/3 innings, making way for senior Nathan Rollon after Cal Lutheran had the bases loaded in the top of the fifth inning.
Knight finished with two runs on four hits, two walks and two strikeouts.
La Verne scored twice more in the fifth inning on an RBI ground out by Moralez and a single by Stewart that skipped over the third baseman’s head.
“No one in our lineup was not giving us good at bats, which is a good recipe for success,” head coach Scott Winterburn said.
Rollon, who finished with five strikeouts, struck out the last batter looking with the bases loaded to earn the save.
The Leopards continued their onslaught with a 13-3 eight inning mercy-rule win in game two, which featured clutch hitting in two out and two strike situations.
They used a four hit first inning, including two RBI singles with two outs that foreshadowed the clutch hitting to come.
Cal Lutheran tied the game in the next inning, which did not begin well with a leadoff double. After giving up the lead it ended on a high note with a double play completed by a rundown tag by Stewart.
La Verne scored three runs in the fifth when Moralez stepped to the plate and eventually scored in one play.
With two outs he hit an RBI single to score senior Jacob Ludvik, then used a fielding error to round the bases and score just after Stewart, who reached base after being hit by a pitch in the previous at bat.
Starting pitcher Anthony Cerafice went 7 and 2/3 innings and locked down the Kingsmen offense, giving up two earned runs and seven hits with four strikeouts.
Relief pitcher Roger Tyre forced a groundout to end the top of the eighth.
“First and foremost our pitching coach (Gabe Miranda) did a good job to get our pitchers ready,” Winterburn said. “He really turned this staff around from the beginning of the year.”
“Cerafice pitched a quality eight innings,” Moralez said. “They (the pitchers) really gave our offense a chance to perform today.”
The bottom of the eighth was the decisive inning.
A walk and a single sandwiched by two hit batters gave the Leopards another run and the bases loaded with Moralez to the plate again.
“They (the team) pride themselves on good at bats with the pressure on,” Winterburn said.
He buried the visitors with a triple that scored three runs, then crossed home plate himself on a two out single by junior Adrian Franco, which prompted the early curtain call.
“You’re starting to see this team gel offensively,” Winterburn said. “They’re catching a rhythm and they couldn’t have it at a better time.”
La Verne, which holds a 22-10 overall record and a 17-4 SCIAC record, plays at 3 p.m. Friday at Redlands, 1 p.m. Saturday at Mt. SAC against Caltech and at 1 p.m. Sunday at Occidental.
“We’re in a good spot now, if we keep playing our ball we’ll come out on top,” Stewart said.
Daniel Hargis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.