Green, orange and leopard print balloons floated in the air, LVTV was broadcasting, posters with photos of all nine Leopard seniors hung on a wall and the stakes were high, but the game was not treated any differently by the La Verne baseball team.
At the end, a swing and a miss set the team into a frenzy as they secured their 20th Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title with a 3-0 senior day win over Whittier Friday at Mt. SAC’s Mazmanian Field.
“I feel tremendous for this group,” said head coach Scott Winterburn. “They’re a really, really great group to coach and it’s gratifying to win with a group like this.”
This is Winterburn’s fourth SCIAC championship in 12 seasons.
La Verne was not intimidated by Whittier ace Ryan Schwenn, who threw a no-hitter against the team four weeks prior, as senior Jacob Ludvik hit a ball almost 400 feet for an out in the first at bat.
The Poets threatened early with a runner on third and only one out in the top of the second, but sophomore starter Phil Schick struck out a batter and forced a fly out to end the inning.
The Leopards found their stride in the bottom of the second inning.
Junior designated hitter Albert Ramos singled and found second base on a sacrifice.
Two batters later senior Zach Canfield flew out to score Ramos for the first La Verne run.
Whittier responded in the top of the third inning with two runners in scoring position, but never crossed home plate.
“The defense had my back the whole day,” Schick said. “I felt like the defense picked me up a bunch, I’ve got to give them credit.”
Pitching and defense dominated the next two innings as 12 of the next 13 batters were retired before senior Jacob Ludvik doubled the Leopard lead in one play.
Ludvik, a First-Team All-SCIAC pick a year ago, singled to center field, advanced to second on a poor throw by the center fielder Tyler Bogart, then scored on an equally valuable throw by the second baseman Cory Goodchild.
Junior Cody Hazel made sure Schwenn felt mortal in the bottom half of the sixth, belting his fifth home run of the season for the final run.
“I’ve been getting under the ball today,” Hazel said. “With two strikes I tried to put the ball in play to try to get on base for the team.”
Hazel, who said he has struggled all year fielding at his position in left field, controlled all six of the fly balls hit his way during the game, including all three outs of the dangerous third inning.
Schick finished with no runs on seven hits, no walks and five strikeouts in 7.1 innings before senior Ross Hebert struck out one and gave up one hit against three batters to finish the eighth.
“Phil threw the best game I’ve ever seen,” Moralez said. “He’s a young guy who came into a big game and pitched his best. I’m really pumped for him.”
Senior Anthony Cerafice retired all three batters in the top of the ninth, including a fly out to Hazel and a strike out to end the game.
Seniors Canfield, Cerafice, Ludvik, Hebert, Nathan Rollon, Bryce Roenicke, Sean Fasig, Alan Heide and Roger Tyre were honored for their years as Leopards before the start of the game.
Hazel and Ramos led La Verne with two hits each while Hazel and Canfield had one RBI each.
“It was a great baseball game; their pitcher pitched great and our pitcher pitched great,” Winterburn said. “I’m proud of them. I’m proud of the way they’ve done all of this.”
“There are no problems on this team, they worked extra hard and have tremendous, tremendous character,” he said.
The Leopards fell to third place Cal Lutheran 2-0 Saturday to finish the regular season at 25-14 overall and 20-8 in SCIAC.
La Verne will take the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA West Regional playoffs.
The opponent, place and date are to be determined.
Daniel Hargis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.