The Leopards continued their recent tear and returned to conference play this past weekend completing a three game sweep over last-place Occidental.
The wins put the Leopards six games behind first place Pomona-Pitzer in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, keeping the team’s playoff hopes alive.
“Now we have to just look at ourselves and see if we really want it,” said junior catcher Mike Surina. “We still have a chance, we want to win out.”
In game one on Friday, La Verne came up big in the fourth inning with five runs, including an RBI triple by Jon-Michael Hattabaugh. Surina then singled him home and Donovan Petta added two more RBIs with a double.
Occidental had several opportunities to take the lead after climbing back from the 8–1 deficit by adding five runs of their own in the top of the fifth inning.
“We started to lack focus in the middle innings,” said Surina. “We drifted off a bit once we got the big lead.”
The two teams continued to battle back and forth in a slugfest, putting up runs in successive innings. Occidental got back in the game in the eighth inning on a two-run home run by centerfielder Nick Saraceni, to make the score 14-10.
The Leopards narrowly escaped a ninth inning jam to win 14-11 after Occidental third baseman Kevin Ozaki lined out into a game ending double play.
“We struggled a bit in the middle of the bullpen but we still pulled out the win,” said assistant coach Justin Duarte. “Tomorrow is another day to compete.”
The Leopards took the second game as part of a double header on Saturday behind a strong pitching performance from junior Tim Jolly who threw seven shutout innings while striking out seven. David Contreras pitched the eighth and ninth innings to preserve the 8–0 shutout.
First baseman Victor Pinado contributed two homeruns and Surina and shortstop Sergio Munoz each added one.
The Leopards took game three, 6-3, behind Hattabaugh’s eighth home run of the season.
The Leopards have now won nine conference games in a row including 18 of their last 20 to improve their record to 20-12 overall and 9-6 in SCIAC. Even with the current streak of success, the Leopards still find themselves in a struggle to finish strong.
“We started off slow but were on a good streak,” said Munoz. “The season is never over we’re still battling.”
The Leopards take on conference opponent Claremont-Mudd-Scripps in a three game set starting April 24.
They will close out the season against conference leader Pomona-Pitzer starting May 1.
Christopher Guzman can be reached at email@example.com.