For the third straight season, California Baptist University, which won the 2010 and 2011 Golden State Athletic Conference titles, has won its conference championship.
Powered by the Esquerra twins, Luke and Zach, the Lancers defeated Dixie State 8-5 in the nightcap of a PacWest doubleheader Saturday to clinch the conference title with four games to play.
Zach Esquerra homered twice and had three RBIs, and Luke Esquerra hit his first career bomb and also had three RBIs to give the necessary run support to freshman David Herd, who allowed just five hits in six innings of work.
The Red Storm, who were the defending PacWest champs, won the opener 13-0, shutting out the Lancers for the first time since March 18, 2011, but even that couldn't put a damper on the PacWest's newest member and what is now CBU Athletics' fifth conference title in its first year in the conference.
The split moves the Lancers to 36-10 overall, 29-7 PacWest. They conclude their regular season next weekend with a four-game series at home against Hawaii Pacific.
"What's special about this one is the senior class," said CBU Head Coach Gary Adcock, who now has four conference titles in nine seasons. "Their freshman year they became the only class that didn't get to the postseason in my time here. This was an average team their freshman year, and they took that negative and turned it into three conference titles, a World Series appearance, two national tournament appearances and the door breakers for our Division II experience. This is a tribute to them."
With a seemingly insurmountable 8-1 lead heading to the bottom of the seventh, the Lancers' celebration was temporarily delayed as Dixie State put on one final furious charge in an attempt to keep the Lancers from dog piling on its field.
Herd (5-0), who had given up just one run and four hits in the first six innings, came out to try and get the complete game. He walked the first two batters and then gave up a single to load the bases. A bases loaded walk to Colton Yack ended his day and made it 8-2. The Red Storm then got two RBI singles off reliever Jesse Arreola to get within 8-4, and they still had the bases loaded with nobody out.
Matt Daugherty came on in relief and struck out the first batter he faced before giving up a single to left that made it 8-5. With the tying run on base, Daugherty induced a championship-clinching 6-4-3 double play started by senior Cole Bullard at short, and the Lancers clinched their first PacWest title in the same fashion they clinched their final GSAC title last year--with a double play.
Bullard was in on last year's championship clincher as well.
"I just happened to be in the right place at the right time," said Bullard, who has been a part of all three conference titles and will likely play in more games than any other Lancer ever by the time his career ends in a few weeks. "I had a rough day at the plate, but I knew that I could contribute defensively. It's good to come out here and make a statement."
Zach Esquerra led off the third with a solo shot and after Ryan Douglass doubled, Luke Esquerra plated him with a groundout. Two batters later, Kevin Odom made it a 3-0 Lancer lead with a solo homer off Dixie starter Sam Friend.
Luke then made it 5-0 with a two-run homer in the fifth, and after Bullard's sacrifice fly made it 6-1 in the sixth, Zach hit a two-run shot of his own pushing the lead to 8-1.
"We have no NCAA postseason, and people ask me how we stay motivated. I grin and say you don't know my team," said Adcock. "They keep score, it goes on our record and the PacWest has graciously allowed us to compete for a title. That's motivation right there. This group has good senior leadership and some freshmen that have stepped up. It's a unique group of guys that stayed motivated throughout the season."
In the opener, the four Lancer hurlers gave up a combined 14 walks, including nine from starter Jon Bengard, who took his first loss of the season. Bengard allowed just two hits in five innings, but labored through 102 pitches, which led to three runs.
The floodgates opened in the sixth inning when the Red Storm tagged the Lancers' bullpen for eight runs on six hits, keyed by a two-run homer from Yack, his first of the year.
Mike Dedrick didn't allow a run in seven innings, giving up just four hits and striking out eight.
It was the first time the Lancers were shutout since a 6-0 loss at Fresno Pacific March 18, 2011, a span of 74 games. The 16 walks were not only a season high, nine more than the previous high, but it was the most a CBU pitching staff has allowed in a game during Adcock's nine-year tenure.