Valley College baseball advances to the First Round after comeback win against Southwestern

Freshman center fielder/starting pitcher Jackson Lapiner threw 3.0 scoreless innings and hit a three-run home run in Tuesday’s contest to help lead the Monarchs to a 4-3 victory.

By Benjamin Royer, Sports Editor

Valley College coach Dave Mallas and the No. 18 seeded Monarchs advanced to face No. 1 Saddleback College Friday and Saturday in the First Round of the CCCAA Southern California Regional. (Graphic By / Matthew Royer)

Down 2-0 through five innings, Valley College baseball’s season was down to its final 12 outs. But resiliency struck on Tuesday afternoon and the Monarchs triumphed. Scoring three runs off a home run from freshman center fielder/pitcher Jackson Lapiner and an additional run off an RBI single from freshman shortstop Maddox Latta, No. 18 Valley (27-14) rallied to defeat No. 15 Southwestern College (24-17) by a score of 4-3.

Valley has now advanced to take on top-seeded Saddleback College in a best-of-three series in the First Round of the CCCAA Southern California Regional.

“There was a lot of energy, it was a long bus ride down,” said Mallas. “We got there with plenty of time to relax and stretch out. Just in batting practice, you could see that some of the guys had nerves kicking in…It was back and forth, but it was great to see after going down 2-0, on the road and in a playoff environment — to see the mental toughness to come back and take the lead.”

Lapiner, who provided the clutch hit the Monarchs needed to advance, also started the contest on the mound, twirling 3.0 scoreless innings while striking out five Jaguars’ batters.

As one of the backbones of the team, Lapiner’s presence on the field was something that Mallas and the coaching staff missed last week. Before their final regular season series against West LA College, the left-handed slugger tested positive for COVID-19. Valley’s home run leader missed all three games against West LA but received the go-ahead to return for Monday’s practice and travel to face Southwestern.

“It was a weird game,” said Lapiner. “It was pretty slow at first. I started the game and really didn’t have my best stuff. Still felt a little dizzy from COVID-19. I worked my butt off to get through those three innings and put up a zero for my team. Then, Maddox [Latta] gets on base, we bunt him over. I chased a change-up in the dirt and ended up putting a barrel on it and put us up by one. Pretty surreal moment.”

The Monarchs and Jaguars both failed to generate offense through the first 4 1/2 innings and when a team finally jumped onto the board, it was not the underdogs wearing green and gold.

Southwestern battled against freshman left-hander Josh Eigenbrodt in the bottom of the fifth and flexed their offense as they scored two runs. With two outs and two runners on base, Eigenbrodt hit Jaguars’ third baseman Isaac Almendarez with a pitch. Moments later, the Monarchs’ reliever paid for his mistake. Southwestern infielders Justin Brown and Eddie King hit back-to-back RBI singles to push the hosts ahead 2-0 and pushed the Monarchs closer to elimination.

Valley needed to find an answer or else their historic 2022 campaign would come to an abrupt end. Lapiner stepped up to the plate and shifted the tone of the contest. Jaguars’ starting pitcher Andy Canedo left a pitch sinking towards the bottom of the zone and Valley’s 6-foot-1-inch utility capitalized. With a smooth swing, the ball went soaring over the right field wall — sending the Monarchs dugout into hysterics as they claimed a 3-2 lead. Latta added on in the seventh and gave Valley an extra run heading into the end of the affair. The Western State Conference Player of the Year hit an RBI single, scoring freshman second baseman Manolo Tafolla — who reached on a single — from second.

From the sixth to the eighth, freshman right-hander Xavier Dubon did not allow a run, striking out three batters to keep Valley ahead. After Dubon hit a batter to begin the ninth, Mallas chose to switch things up, turning to freshman starting pitcher Danny Veloz out of the bullpen.

The righty, who pitched 7.0 scoreless innings against West LA on Friday, closed the contest — securing the Monarchs’ victory. Veloz allowed the Jaguars’ runner who reached during Dubon’s stint to cross home, but stranded the game-tying run at third to end the game.

Valley’s 4-3 victory sets up a matchup with Saddleback College on Friday. Despite losing only eight games all season, one of the Bobcats’ defeats were to Southwestern — a team the Monarchs have now taken down.

“They’re just another team,” said Lapiner about Friday’s matchup against Saddleback.

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