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Chapman, Blitstein Start Fast in Baseball

Even Chapman’s players are surprised at how well their third-ranked baseball team has done this season.

“We know we have the talent,” pitcher Jeff Blitstein said. “We were very, very optimistic about our chances when the season began, but this start, wow.”

At the halfway point of a very competitive schedule, the Panthers are 19-2 and Blitstein, the team’s workhorse for the last two seasons, has been a big reason. He’s 7-0 with a 0.94 earned-run average. Last season, he was 15-5 with a 2.72 ERA.

Those numbers are a far cry from how his college career began after attending high school in suburban Denver.

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Blitstein moved to Southern California in the fall of 1995 to live with his grandfather and enrolled at Pasadena College.

The Lancers won only six games in Blitstein’s freshman season and he was 1-7.

A year later Blitstein had six of the team’s eight victories. But Chapman Coach Rex Peters liked what he saw in Blitstein, who relies mostly on his sinker and slider.

“He’s not extremely overpowering,” Peters said. “But he can command both pitches and he gives up a lot of ground balls.”

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Pitching has carried the Panthers thus far, with Blitstein beating three teams ranked among the top 10 in NCAA Division III, including last Friday’s nine-strikeout, six-hit performance in a 9-1 victory over defending national champion Eastern Connecticut.

The Panthers got nine hits and three runs batted in from Tony Cerna, a .255 hitter. That was a bright spot for Peters, who has been concerned about the team’s run production.

“Pitching has kind of carried us early on, but now our offense has begun to pick it up,” Peters said.

Outfielder Adam Olow, who had four hits and four RBIs March 16 in a 16-1 victory over Montclair (N.J.) State, is batting a team-high .483.

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“We’re not all that excited and giddy over our start,” Blitstein said. “If we win, we win. The two losses, hey, you are going to lose sometime. All we know is that when you get to the postseason everyone is 0-0.”

TOURNEY TALK

Today will be a long day for Pacific Lutheran of Tacoma, Wash., as Chapman’s monthlong Sun West softball tournament enters its final week at El Camino Park in Orange.

The Lutes (18-3), who moved to NCAA Division III from NAIA this season, are scheduled to play three games.

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At 10 a.m., Pacific Lutheran opens against St. Thomas (Minn). At 2:30 p.m. the Lutes play St. Mary’s (Minn.), which was 33-2 last season. At 4:30 p.m. Pacific Lutheran takes on the host Panthers, who are ranked second in the nation in Division III. Chapman is 17-0 in the tournament and 25-3 overall.

The round-robin format awards the tournament title to the team with the best winning percentage no matter how many games each plays. Pacific Lutheran begins today 5-0 and tournament director Jim Moore said the Lutes-Panthers game could decide the champion.

Chapman’s three losses have been to Division II teams, including two last weekend at the Cal State Hayward tournament.

Admission to all games is free.

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Moore founded the tournament two years ago to compete with a similar event in Florida. It had 25 teams in its inaugural season. When the event concludes Saturday, 41 teams will have played 150 games during its four-week run.

Chapman has been led by Stephanie Carew, a two-time All-American who is hitting .544. Second baseman Amie Barnes, who has batted anywhere from leadoff to cleanup, is batting .443.

Pitcher Linsey Buendia is 9-0 in the tournament with an ERA of 0.33. Freshman Tiffany Hoskins is 8-1 overall with an 0.86 ERA.

“I’m really encouraged by the way our team has been playing,” Coach Janet Lloyd said. “This week is a true test of how we will compete at the Division III level nationally. I feel good about our chances.”

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CLOSING POINTS

Concordia baseball Coach Jackie Schniepp, in his sixth season, needs four more victories to reach 22, which would be the best number of his career. Based on how the Eagles have performed this season, it’s a good bet he’ll reach that level. The Eagles (18-16-1 overall) are 14-4-1 at home and 4-12 on the road. Eight of their final 14 games, including an April 15 nonconference game with Chapman, is at home. Catcher Jason Radwan (Aliso Niguel/Saddleback College) leads the team with a .382 average and 41 RBIs. . . .

Melissa Naylon is batting .387 with 12 RBIs for Concordia’s softball team, which has lost nine of its last 11 games. . . .

Chapman benefited from an unearned run to take a 1-0 softball victory over Southern California College recently. The Vanguards (24-9) have been led by center fielder Chrissy Vega, who is hitting .455 with 25 runs scored. . . .

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Outfielder/catcher Kevin Candelaria, who hit .538 during SCC’s recent seven-game winning streak, and was named Golden State Athletic Conference player of the week.

Paul McLeod can be reached at his e-mail address: paul.mcleod@latimes.com


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