RIVERSIDE --- Right when it seemed as if there weren’t any more room left for drama in this baseball season, California Baptist University saved its best for last.
With its conference title hopes put on life support Friday night after Dixie State swept a doubleheader at Grand Canyon, the Lancers nearly had the plugged pulled on them by Point Loma Monday—not once, but twice.
However, freshman Antonio Chavarria breathed life into the Lancers with a two-out, three-run, walk-off home run in the opener and then Zach Esquerra finished the job with an RBI-single in the eighth of game two for the second straight walk-off win of the day, clinching the Lancers’ fourth straight conference title.
“So many times today you could say the game was over and we just kept bouncing back,” said CBU Head Coach Gary Adcock, who has led the Lancers to five conference titles in 10 years at the helm. “We adopted a theme a few weeks ago that you can’t keep us down, and we played that way today. Anytime they knocked us down we bounced right back.”
The Lancers won the opener 4-2 and then the nightcap 6-5 to improve to 33-17 overall, 26-10 PacWest, giving them their second straight PacWest title. The Lancers won the 2010 and 2011 GSAC titles down at Point Loma and then won last year’s PacWest title at Dixie State.
For the first time in four years, the Lancers were able to celebrate on their own field.
The Sea Lions fall to 26-24, 22-14.
The Lancers faced deficits of 4-0 and 5-3 in the nightcap, the latter coming as the game headed to the bottom of the seventh. Faced with their final three outs, Chavarria wasted no time lining a single to right, and Blair Moore dramatically tied the game at 5-5 with a two-run blast to right field.
The Lancers put the winning run on second with two outs, but Garret Levsen induced an inning-ending flyout from pinch-hitter Michael Fagan to end that threat.
Meanwhile, Matt Daugherty put the finishing touches on the longest outing of his career, striking out the Sea Lions’ 1-2-3 hitters in the top of the eighth. Daugherty (3-2) went four innings, allowing just one hit and striking out seven of the 14 batters he faced.
“Matt made me look smart and stupid—smart for bringing him in and stupid for not bringing him in sooner,” said Adcock. “We needed something to change. We needed someone to attack the zone. If we were going to get beat today, I wanted it to be a senior to bear that burden, and he had one of the best outings of his career.”
Mark Sanchez led off the eighth with a single to right and was sacrificed to second. After Travis Sais flew out to right, Moore drew a four-pitch walk. Esquerra, who is second in all of college baseball with 17 home runs, went with a 2-1 pitch and lined it into right field. Sanchez scored easily from second, and the Lancers mobbed Esquerra on the infield.
CBU fell behind 4-0 in the third after the Sea Lions got four straight hits and a sac fly in the second and then back-to-back bases loaded walks in the third. The Lancers got three of them back in the bottom of the third on back-to-back RBI singles from Luke Esquerra and Chavarria. Moore plated Esquerra with a sacrifice fly to get the Lancers within 4-3.
David Herd started on just two days’ rest and lasted just two innings, giving up four runs.
Chavarria had two hits. Ryan Cathers was 3 for 4.
The opener, though, set the tone for the day.
While PacWest Pitcher of the Year candidate Jon Bengard, working on just three days’ rest, put together his gutsiest effort of the year, it seemed as if it weren’t going to be enough. The Sea Lions scored a run in the fourth on an RBI groundout and then got an unearned run in the sixth after a two-out error by Cathers at short allowed a run to score from third, giving the Sea Lions a 2-1 lead.
Mickey Dunleavy got the first two out in the seventh on weak grounders before Point Loma shortstop Tanner Handa misplayed a grounder from Sanchez, giving the Lancers a foot in the door. Luke Esquerra drew a walk and Dunleavy got ahead of Chavarria 0-2.
With steady rain falling and an 0-2 hole, Chavarria pelted the next offering from Dunleavy sending it over the right field wall for a three-run, game-winning blast, his eighth of the season.
“The ability to homer drastically changes the game,” said Adcock. “It can be frustrating when you watch us play, but we have the ability to homer and it always keeps us in the game. He hit a mistake a long way and it’s a great moment for a young guy who has a great career ahead of him.”
Bengard (11-1) went the distance for the fifth time this year, scattering four singles and striking out eight. He now has a PacWest-leading 108 strikeouts, just 10 away from the program’s single-season record held by Fred Whatley in 1988.
The Lancers had six hits. Zach Esquerra had an RBI double in the third that gave the Lancers a 1-0 lead.
CBU will host the NCCAA West Regional Tournament beginning Thursday. The four-team double elimination will also have Fresno Pacific, Arizona Christian and Point Loma May 9-11.