PASADENA, Calif. (Apr. 22, 2015) – Senior Derek Kearney (Carlsbad, Calif. / La Costa Canyon) turned in one of the best pitching performances in program history as the Caltech baseball team took SCIAC-leading University of La Verne to the wire in a 3-1 defeat on Wednesday afternoon.
Kearney tossed his sixth complete game of the season, allowing just one earned run while striking out four and recording a whopping 14 groundouts over the full nine innings. A pair of unearned runs made the difference as La Verne improves to 21-14 overall and 18-7 in the SCIAC, while Caltech dips to 2-32 (0-25).
The senior ace sent the Leopards a message early, coaxing a groundout to first base and whiffing two in the top of the first inning. He worked out of a jam in the second after a one-out walk and single put runners on the corners, picking off the man on first and getting another groundout to junior Dylan Schultz at shortstop to end the inning. Kearney tried to help his own cause at the plate with a two-out single in the bottom of the frame, but would be stranded.
La Verne threatened again in the top of the third inning with a one-out single, stolen base and sacrifice bunt advancing a runner to third, but Kearney induced a high fly out to right field to escape unscathed. The Beavers turned right around to nearly get on the board with sophomore Schaeffer Reed (Miami, Fla. / Westminster Christian) beating out a bunt for a leadoff single and moving to second on a perfectly placed bunt by sophomore Chris Bradley (Half Moon Bay, Calif. / Serra). Some awful luck left him stranded, however, as a pair of sharp liners by junior Daniel Chou (Blue Bell, Pa. / Wissahickon) and sophomore Harrison Jacobs (Tucson, Ariz. / Catalina Foothills) were snagged in left field and at shortstop.
La Verne finally broke the deadlock in the top of the fourth inning. A leadoff single and sacrifice bunt moved the go-ahead run into scoring position, but a fly out to left seemed to dampen the Leopards' chances of scoring with two outs. Andrew Douglas, who would go a perfect 4-for-4 on the day, sent a sharp single up the middle to bring the run home and give the visitors the 1-0 lead and advanced to third on a stolen base and throwing error. Kearney was far from rattle, however, and blew a fastball by the next batter for his third strikeout of the day.
Rather than giving in to what could have seemed inevitable against the conference's top team, Caltech responded immediately to tie the game in the bottom of the fourth. Freshman Garrett Levine (Columbus, Ohio / Columbus Acad.) reached on an error to lead off the frame and was joined on the basepaths as Schultz drew a walk. A fielder's choice erased Schultz at second but put runners on the corners with just one out and Kearney stepping to the plate. The veteran continued to help his cause with a sacrifice fly to centerfield, plating Levine and chasing La Verne starter Javi Iniguez from the game.
The Leopards barely scratched out another run in the top of the fifth. A leadoff infield single was followed by a stolen base and passed ball, with the go-ahead run scoring on a groundout to shortstop. Kearney was not charged with the tally, though, as he recorded a fly out and groundout to end the frame. Chou stroked a two-out double to left center in the bottom of the inning, but could not be brought home.
Kearney worked his way around two singles in the sixth and Levine led off the bottom with a single. Two batters later, Leopards shortstop Woody Reyes made an incredible play ranging to his left behind second base to nab a well-struck ball by freshman David Watson (Fort Collins, Colo. / Windsor) and flipping the ball straight from his glove to the second baseman to start a double play that ended the inning. Jacobs pulled down a sharp liner to record the third out with a man on second in the seventh inning, but La Verne would score an insurance run in the top of the eighth after an error allowed the leadoff man to reach base. A sacrifice bunt moved the runner into scoring position and a sharp double down the right field line that just snuck under the outstretched glove of the diving Watson plated him. The Beavers were retired in order in the eighth and La Verne put runners on the corners with just one out in the ninth looking to put the game out of reach, but Kearney would have none of it, getting a weak grounder for the fielder's choice at second and a groundout to Watson at first to end the inning.
Down to their final chance, the Beavers certainly had the Leopards worrying as Levine led off with his second single of the day, prompting La Verne to yank Alex Bernstein from the mound after striking out four and allowing just the one hit over two innings. With closer Nick Byrd taking over, Schultz worked the count full before striking out on a blazing fastball and Watson grounded out to second, moving Levine into scoring position. Kearney would fittingly have the honor of representing the tying run with two outs, but whiffed on a high fastball to end the game.
Kearney's performance was by far the Beavers' best on the mound this season, bringing his season ERA down to 6.72, which would rank third all-time at Caltech.
Head Coach Matt Mark and the Beavers will continue SCIAC Pool Play this weekend as they head out to the University of Redlands (23-12, 16-8) on Saturday, Apr. 25 and Cal Lutheran University (26-10, 18-7) on Sunday, Apr. 26 before hosting their season finale versus Chapman University (22-13, 15-9) on Tuesday, Apr. 28 at 3:00 p.m.