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Baseball looks toward next season

Jolene Nacapuy
Assistant Sports Editor

The baseball team ended its regular season with an overall record of 19-22 and a 15-13 record in the Southern Cali­fornia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.

The Leopards beat Caltech, 21-2 in seven innings on April 29 and with a loss by Occidental on that same day, clinched the No. 4 seed in the SCIAC postseason tournament.

La Verne faced top-seeded Cal Lutheran on May 2 and Whittier on May 3 in a double elimination tournament.

The Leopards ended up losing 8-5 to Cal Lutheran and 5-4 to Whittier.

“We found a way to make it to the SCIAC tournament but it was a disappointment the way that we lost both games,” sophomore center fielder Nolan Henley said.

Henley finished the season with a .293 batting average with 39 runs scored and one home run.

Henley also had an on-base percentage of .384 and a slugging percentage .401 in 40 games played this season.

“I feel like overall we had a successful season,” sophomore first baseman Benjamin White said. “We were a little inconsistent at times, which hurt us in the long run, but we all learned a lot and grew as players.”

White was the first player to hit a home run at Ben Hines Field at Campus West.

White finished the season with 31 RBIs, three home runs and a batting average of .388 overall and .439 in the conference.

In the first game of the SCIAC postseason tournament against Cal Lutheran, the Leopards managed to gain a quick 2-0 lead in the top of the first inning.

But the Kingsmen answered back, scoring four runs at the bottom of the first.

Breaking the 4-4 tie from the top of the second inning, Cal Lutheran scored three runs in the fourth inning, 7-4.

La Verne was unable to catch up, resulting in an 8-5 Cal Lutheran win.

The Kingsmen ended up winning the SCIAC tournament with a 7-2 victory over Chapman in the finals.

“We never gave up and kept fighting back,” senior catcher Joe Winterburn said. “Cal Lu had a good lead that we just could not get back but kept pushing till the end.”

Winterburn hit .350 with 13 doubles, seven home runs and 54 RBIs overall.

“We have much to improve on,” junior left fielder Mark Jebbia said. “First off, we are losing a great core group of seniors so we have big shoes to fill both on the field and also in leadership responsibility.”

“We will improve quickly and come out stronger for next year. I have a lot of confidence in my teammates coming back to fill the roles that need to be,” he said.

The Leopards were not out yet and played one more game against Whittier the following day.

The Poets scored first in the bottom of the third inning, but La Verne answered right back.

The Leopards scored at the top of the fourth inning by a fielder’s choice made by senior outfielder Josh Surdo, allowing junior third baseman Pedro Espinoza to score.

At the top of the seventh inning. Henley double down the infield, scoring sophomore shortstop Woody Reyes, taking the lead, 2-1.

To start the top of the eighth inning, senior designated hitter George Holland doubled to right field, scoring White.

Then Surdo followed with a single to center field, scoring Holland, giving La Verne a dominant lead of 4-1.

Whittier came in clutch, coming right back at the bottom of the ninth inning.

Whittier junior designated hitter Willie Renard singled up the middle, allowing freshman right fielder Jonathan Whipple to score.

La Verne senior pitcher Kevin Knight was pulled, which brought in sophomore pitcher Brett Early to finish out the game.

Knight gave up one unearned run, finishing with 8.1 innings and four strikeouts.

But the Poets did not stop there.

Sophomore catcher Stephen Zavala reached on a fielder’s choice, allowing sophomore second baseman Christian Loera to score as well.

Junior center fielder Corey Jensen singled to left field, tying the game, 4-4, scoring sophomore left fielder Sekiguchi.

The Poets closed out the game as junior third baseman Julian Barzilli singled to left, scoring Zavala.

Whittier ultimately beat the Leopards, 5-4.

“The Whittier loss was probably the toughest of the season, not only because it was the last one, but because we let it get away from us,” White said. “We were winning the whole game and we let it slip through our hands in the last inning. It was a pretty heartbreaking way to end the season.”

Henley, Holland and Jebbia each had two hits.

“As a senior, I felt really good this season,” Winterburn said. “I’m going to miss the competitiveness of college baseball and being able to compete everyday in that environment, I enjoy that aspect of college baseball.”

Winterburn earned first SCIAC team recognition along with Jebbia.

“Making first team was a huge honor for me” Jebbia said. “I felt like there were several strong players throughout the conference who performed well for their teams,”

“There were several guys from other teams who were also very deserving of this award, so to be nominated to the first team is a special honor to me,” he said.

Jebbia went 7-5 with a 3.68 ERA and 67 strikeouts in a team-high 85.2 innings for the season.

“I think for next year we need to improve on our concentration and succeeding at what we can control,” White said. “There are very few teams out there that have more talent then we do and we force teams to outplay us and we don’t beat ourselves we can be a very good team.”

Although the season is now over, the team is looking toward the future.

“I look forward to next year being my senior year and try to make the most out of it,” Jebbia said. “We have a lot of strong returners coming back so I’m excited for what the future holds for us.”

Next season the team will be led by six returning seniors.

The Leopards are also hoping they will go all the way in the SCIAC tournament.

“We have a good returning squad and some new recruits,” Henley said. “With that, I think we will definitely be a contender again next year in the SCIAC.”

Jolene Nacapuy can be reached at jolene.nacapuy@laverne.edu.

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