The baseball team’s season ended Saturday after losing to the University of Redlands in the conference semifinals 17-8, which was the Panthers’ largest margin of defeat this season.
“The season was ultimately a failure,” said junior infielder Gavin Blodgett. “We still believe that we’re one of the most talented teams in the conference, West region and the country, but we couldn’t put it all together in a timely matter. We started (the season) hot and that’s how we should have played all year, but we ultimately didn’t.”
The Panthers began their postseason run in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) tournament at home May 5 against Redlands, where they lost 5-4. However, baseball playoffs are double-elimination format, meaning the Panthers were guaranteed another opportunity to qualify for the semifinals.
On May 6, the Panthers were victorious against the University of La Verne 8-7, but when they faced Redlands again later that day, the Panthers were unable to keep up with the Bulldogs’ offense, ending the season in third place.
“We gave them too many opportunities,” said head coach Scott Laverty. “We made mistakes that they capitalized on. (Sophomore pitcher) Joey (Harmon) battled but he gave them too many opportunities early on. Then, we compounded mistakes, had some plays we should have made, gave up a hit and hit a guy (with a pitch). We made mistakes that gave them opportunities that they took advantage of.”
The May 5 matchup against the Bulldogs was close for most of the game. The Panthers took a 3-1 lead in the third inning that lasted until the Bulldogs scored three runs in the sixth inning. In the next inning, the Panthers tied it up 4-4. The two teams were unable to score until the Bulldogs scored a run in the ninth and were able to shut out the Panthers to take the win.
“The games this weekend were decided on timely hitting,” said freshman catcher Joe Jimenez. “They cashed in on the chances they had to put themselves in the lead, and we didn’t take advantage of all of the chances we got. It’s as simple as that. They have some great pitchers that really shut down our high-powered offense when we needed runs.”
After the loss, the Panthers played La Verne, who had lost to California Lutheran University the day before. The Panthers found themselves down 4-3 by the end of the fourth inning. The Panthers led the game at the top of the sixth inning, but by the end of the eighth inning, the game was tied at 7-7. This time, the Panthers were the ones to score in the ninth inning and hold off the Leopards to end the game with an 8-7 victory.
“I thought we played an all-around great game against La Verne,” Jimenez said. “It was a back-and-forth game but none of the guys ever gave up. We just kept fighting. (Sophomore infielder) Jarod Penniman has been clutch for us all year and I knew if he got up with a guy in scoring position we would have a great chance to win that ballgame. (Freshman pitcher) Austin Merrill came in and absolutely shut down their hitters in the bottom of ninth to win it.”
During the win, senior infielder Tyler Cook hit his second home run in two days. Cook has the second highest batting average in the conference and the fifth most home runs.
“Like every year, we set our eyes on winning the national championship,” Jimenez said. “It’s definitely disappointing to not make it out of the SCIAC tournament. It was a bitter feeling to be eliminated from the tournament early.”
In the semifinal against Redlands, the game was tied until the sixth inning, and a grand slam from Redlands junior infielder Brendan Gardiner in the seventh inning swung momentum in the Bulldogs’ favor. The Panthers were unable to score another run and ended their season with a 17-8 loss.
After finishing the regular season in second place and the postseason tournament in third, the Panthers ended their 2017 season with a 26-14 record.
“Now that the season’s over, we’re looking to rest up, reset and start it all over next fall,” Blodgett said. “We are losing some key players, but we gained a bit more experience in our short postseason run and I think the younger guys and even some returners have a better idea of what it will take to fulfill our potential next year.”
Doug Close contributed to this report.