THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – A sunny afternoon turned cold and rainy at Cal Lutheran where the Kingsmen rallied from a two-run deficit to earn a 5-4 upset victory over No. 5 Whitworth in the season opener for both teams this afternoon on George “Sparky” Anderson Field.
If the first game of the year was any indication of what is to come, CLU is in for a successful season.
“You always want to win your first game,” head coach Marty Slimak said after the game. “It sets the whole season up.”
A shaky start on the hill turned solid for junior transfer Jake Petersen who went 7.0 innings, scattering five hits while striking out two, allowing no earned runs. After the first two batters reached on a walk and a single, respectively, Petersen settled down and went on to sit down the next four batters in a row and 12 of the next 13 he faced. He retired the side in order in the third, fourth and sixth.
Trailing by a pair at 3-1 in the bottom of the eighth as the rain began to fall steadily and the temperature dropped, the Cal Lutheran bats heated up. The Kingsmen batted around and posted a four spot to take a 5-3 lead.
With the pressure on, Slimak said, “We competed really well all game and that is why we were able to end up with the win.”
The rally began with a Nick DeLorenzo walk, which forced Whitworth to make a pitching change. Nicho DellaValle promptly singled, sending pinch runner Zach Cope to second. After the Pirates made the second out of the inning and with the pressure on, the bench came to life.
Kevin Leonard connected for a pinch-hit RBI single to left, scoring Cope. Freshman pinch hitter Davey Casciola singled in the first collegiate at-bat of his career and advanced to second on a throwing error, with DellaValle coming around to knot things at three apiece.
Back at the top of the order, senior transfer Ronnie Burton continued his big inaugural day. The left fielder blooped a single to right field, after battling through a nine-pitch at bat, breaking the tie with two RBIs. Both Elon Goldman, who pinch ran for Leonard, and Casciola scored in the process. A Garrett Smith walk forced another pitching change, but Jason Renner quickly ended the inning with a pop up.
Junior Aaron Roth took the hill in the ninth, striking out the first batter he faced. After a hard hit single to left he came back to force what appeared to be a game-ending double-play ball, but the runner at first was called safe to extend the inning. On that play the runner scored to cut the CLU lead to one. The extra batter did not faze Roth who then got a fly ball to Goldman in centerfield to complete the come-back.
Roth was credited with the save while freshman Matt Johnston (1-0)earned the victory. He came in from the bullpen to take over in the top of the eighth. In his first collegiate outing he struck out a pair, with the final out coming on a called third strike.
CLU put the first crooked number on the board today as Nick Boggan doubled down the right field line and came in to score on a two-out RBI single by C.J. Picerni in the second.
The Kingsmen then threatened for more in the bottom of the third when Burtonsingled and promptly stole second, advancing to third on an errant throw. A strike him out, throw him out double play slowed the momentum for CLU though Boggan would walk and advance to second, placing men on second and third with two down.
To lead off the bottom of the fourth, DellaVallereached base after he lined a single to a diving Erik Nikssarian in center, moving up 90 feet as the ball ricocheted away from the fielder. Cal Lutheran was unable to capitalize as the next three men were retired in order via a pop-up to the pitcher and a pair of strikeouts.
Whitworth evened the score in the top of the fifth via a pair of CLU errors followed by an RBI single by Nikssarian, the nine hitter. The Pirates would load the bases, but a quick trip to the mound by Slimak gave the Kingsmen a moment to breathe before Petersen got a fly ball to end the inning.
In the bottom of the fifth frame Burton and Smithstarted the inning off with back-to-back walks. With one out, Whitworth made a pitching change and after striking out the first man he faced, DeLorenzowas hit in the elbow to load the bases. A groundball ended the opportunity for CLU.
As cloudy, drizzly weather rolled in the Pirates felt right at home. Blake Thoren lined a single up the middle to start the seventh. A sacrifice bunt moved the runner to second and an errant throw allowed Jeremy Druffle, the Whitworth leadoff man, to reach as Thoren came in to score the go-ahead run. Tyler Pfeffer lifted a fly ball to center and though a diving Mike Vinyard could not come up with the ball, he fired a strike in to Smith at second to throw Pfeffer out for the third out of the inning. Druffle came in to score before the out was recorded to push the Whitworth lead to 3-1.
All in all it was a great match-up and both squads competed, but each team had their fair share of opening day miscues.
“Both teams played well, but made errors and the opposition took advantage of those errors,” Slimak recalled. “It is a lot nicer to be on the winning side of things, especially in the home opener. This game was up for grabs and we took it.”
Burton finished the day 2-for-4 with three RBIs while DellaValle was the only other CLU starter to collect more than one hit, finishing with a pair while scoring once.
Nikssarian led the Pirates with a 2-for-3 day, driving in a run and scoring once. Dan Sheibe made the start for Whitworth, tossing 4.1 innings, striking out seven. Taylor Isadore (0-1) was tagged with the loss.
Cal Lutheran (1-0) will look to take a pair tomorrow as Whitworth (0-1) returns to Ullman Stadium to conclude their series beginning at 11:00 a.m. on George “Sparky” Anderson Field.