LA VERNE, Calif. — La Verne freshman Nick Byrd has experienced typical first-year ups and downs this season, but head coach Scott Winterburn has stuck with him as the high-leverage reliever and it is paying dividends.
Clinging to a one-run lead over No. 20 Cal Lutheran going into the ninth, the Leopards turned to Byrd to close the deal and the rookie delivered. The Kingsmen got two on via an error and a single, but Byrd shut it down by striking out the 4-5 hitters Ramsey Abushala and Nick Cohan to preserve a 5-4 win over the Kingsmen at Ben Hines Field on Friday afternoon.
It is Byrd's fourth save of the season, the most by a Leopard since Grant Wheatley '09 notched eight in 2009.
La Verne improves to 15-4 in SCIAC play (18-11 overall) and maintains first place in league standings. Cal Lutheran falls to 20-10 overall and 12-7 in the SCIAC.
Trailing 4-1 in the fifth inning, the Leopards took advantage of a pair of Cal Lutheran miscues en route to a big inning. After Tyler Watkins drew a walk with one out, Aaron Orona reached on an error by the pitcher Scott Peters. Ben White promptly made him pay with a triple to deep right drive in two runs and Mark Jebbia followed with with a single up the middle to score White. The Leopards then caught another break as Abushala dropped a routine fly ball in right, which allowed Jebbia to come in all the way from first and give La Verne a one-run lead.
And that was all the Leopards needed. Ace Javi Iniguez (5-2), who surrendered a pair of runs in each of the third and the fourth innings, settled in to hold the Kingsmen scoreless in the next four innings before giving way to Byrd in the ninth. Iniguez tossed eight innings while striking out four and not walking a batter.
White finished 2-for-4 with two RBI. Jebbia was 1-for-2 with two runs and an RBI.
Nico Filice led the way for the Kingsmen, going 2-for-3 with a homer.
The teams will square off for a doubleheader tomorrow at Thousand Oaks. First game is at 11 a.m.