THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — Nick Byrd pitched 7.2 scoreless innings in relief to lead the University of La Verne baseball team past Cal Lutheran, 4-2, and capture the 2015 SCIAC Baseball Postseason Tournament championship.
By winning the tournament, the Leopards earn an automatic bid to the 2015 NCAA Division III Regional. The University of Texas at Tyler will host the West Regional from May 13-16.
La Verne, who stumbled into the tournament as the fourth seed after losing their last three regular season games, made a 3-1 run through the tournament and will return to the NCAA Division III playoffs for the first time since 2012.
Cal Lutheran beat La Verne, 14-0, in the morning game to force a decisive seventh game but the Leopards turned it around quickly to win their first SCIAC Postseason title since the tournament's inception in 2013.
La Verne head coach Scott Winterburn tapped Byrd in just the second inning and the freshman responded with the best performance of his young career on the biggest stage.
Byrd gave up a single and a walk immediately after he came on, but allowed just four baserunners the rest of the way and did not let the Kingsmen string anything together. He finished his job with a 1-2-3 ninth.
The Kingsmen got out to an early 2-0 lead, but the Leopards pounced on Cal Lutheran pitcher Scott Peters's control problems in the seventh to grab control of the game. Peters got Andrew Douglas to fly out to start the inning but hit Ben White in the following at bat and gave up a single and a walk to load the bases for La Verne. The Leopards then called a suicide squeeze for Jared Hovsepian, but first baseman Davey Casciola made a barehanded grab and fired home for a force at home.
Nolan Henley then laced a single to tie the game at 2-2 but the Kingsmen missed a chance to get out of the inning. A good throw from left stopped the go-ahead run Mark Jebbia at home and two Leopards were caught in a rundown. But Jebbia was called safe at third after both he and CLU catcher Spencer DuBois both dove into the bag, and Woody Reyes promptly drove in two to give the Leopards a 4-2 lead.
Henley and Douglas led the Leopards with a pair of hits apiece.
The Leopards now await the announcement of the Regional opponents. NCAA will unveil the full field on Sunday, May 10 after 9 p.m. PST.