LA VERNE, Calif. – Wild. Unpredictable. Almost unbelievable. From down 10-1, the Chapman University baseball team came all the way back to defeat Redlands 20-12 and claim the SCIAC Tournament title. The Panthers (34-11) won the first SCIAC Tournament title in program history.
With the win, the Panthers are headed back to the NCAA Division III Baseball Championship as the automatic qualifier out of the SCIAC. It will be the first appearance for the program since 2011.
"I told them, 'We're down 10-1. Do everything you can to win 6, 7, 8, 9. And that will put you back in the ball game," head coach Scott Laverty said of the comeback mentality. "This group of seniors has been battling and battling and having tough times in the tournament and it all comes to culmination in this win here."
After the Panthers took game one from Redlands to force a winner-take-all game, the Bulldogs looked determined and dominant. Chapman scored the first run in the top half of the first, but Redlands immediately tied it up in the bottom half. Redlands put up four more in the third to go up 5-1, another four in the fifth and one more in the sixth for a 10-1 lead.
With their hopes of a title growing slimmer, senior Gavin Blodgett sparked an epic rally that saw nine runs cross home plate and 15 Panthers come to the plate. Blodgett was plunked by a pitch to start the inning and senior Conner Larkin followed with a single.
The first run came home when junior Jarod Penniman's grounder was mishandled by the third baseman. Junior Alex Tsuruda knocked in the next run. Sophomore Aaron Wong followed with a two-run single to make it 10-5.
With hope and momentum growing in the Panthers' dugout, Redlands went to the bullpen. The rally continued. Senior Justin Stream walked. Senior Jared Love stepped up and smashed a two-run double that was just out of reach of the diving center fielder in the right center gap to make it 10-7 with two one and still one out.
The lineup turned over as Blodgett strode back to the plate as the tying run. He completed the improbable comeback with a three-run blast over the left field wall.
Freshman Cody Turner, who recorded the save in the first game of the day, entered in the fifth with two on and two and forced the inning-ending flyout. After the Panthers explosion in the seventh, he quickly retired the first two outs, issued a walk and then struck out Rainier Aguilar to keep the momentum on the Panthers side.
He went on to pitch two and two-thirds innings and brought the Redlands offense to a halt. He allowed just one run on two hits while striking out three to pick up his first collegiate win.
When the Panthers came up in the eighth, the bats exploded again. Love hit another two-run double and Blodgett followed with another two-run single. Penniman doubled in another and freshman Trevor Marrs hit his second homer of the tournament – a two-run blast to right to put the Panthers up 17-10.
Chapman scored three more in the ninth, including RBIs from Love and Blodgett, and withstood a pair of late runs from the Bulldogs to claim the title.
Love and Blodgett combined for 11 RBIs, six hits and five runs scored to fuel the improbable comeback win.
The Panthers will head to an NCAA Regional on May 17-21. The NCAA will announce the tournament field on Sunday, May 13 with a press release on NCAA.com.