COSTA MESA — Coming off a 34-20 season in which the Vanguard University baseball team was at various times, 15-1, 19-2 and 25-5, the bar has been raised for Coach Ralph Grajeda's Lions.
But it took all of one game to equal the biggest margin of victory achieved by the 2010 unit, as Vanguard trounced visiting La Sierra, 15-0, in the nonconference season opener Tuesday.
Only once did last year's Lions produce a 15-run win, in a Feb. 20 shutout at home against Bethany College.
This time, Vanguard, which made its first NAIA Tournament appearance since 1985 last spring, banged out 13 hits while its five pitchers limited the Golden Eagles to two hits.
La Sierra, which went 4-15 in a limited schedule last season and has no seniors, just three juniors and 14 freshmen on a 20-player roster heading into this season's 25-game slate, had only one runner get past second base.
Senior center fielder Brandon Young went three for four to pace the Lions hitters. He was one of five Vanguard batsmen to drive in at least two runs.
First baseman Kyle Hardman, a senior transfer from Northern Colorado playing his first game for Vanguard, was two for four with three runs batted in for the winners.
Sophomore third baseman Bryce Arroyo went two for four with two RBIs and sparkled defensively for Vanguard, for which Jeremiah Mejia, a senior transfer from Oral Roberts, went two for five with two RBIs in his Vanguard debut.
Junior starter Gabe Garcia recorded four of the Lions' 11 strikeouts in three hitless innings to earn the win in his Vanguard debut. The transfer from Cypress Community College worked out of the only real jam created by La Sierra, which included the only Lions' error.
After a walk and an errant throw on a sacrifice bunt attempt, a successful sacrifice put runners on second and third with one out in the La Sierra second. But Garcia struck out the next hitter and ended the inning on a groundout.
Senior Corey Kohnke struck out five in three innings, allowing one hit, and earning praise from Grajeda.
"Pitching coach Jerry Spradlin [a former major leaguer in his first season at Vanguard] has fixed his arm slot and has him throwing downhill," Grajeda said. "[Kohnke] scuffled for us last year, but I was really impressed with him today."
Senior Tyson Leighton had two RBIs for the Lions, who produced at least one hit from eight of nine spots in the batting order. All nine places in the order scored at least once for Vanguard, which produced its first shutout in 23 games, dating back to last season.
"We had three transfers that had hadn't thrown since late October and they responded well," Grajeda said of relievers Mike Leal , Tucker Woods and Joey Vega, who combined to retire nine of the 11 they faced.
"The plan was to get them some innings before this weekend [a three-game series at Cal State San Marcos that begins Friday]," Grajeda said. "We didn't want to throw them into the fire before they were battle ready."
The Vanguard offense lurched into battle after being retired in order the first two innings by freshmen Kenny Curriel.
Vanguard scored four in the third, three in the fifth and seven in the seventh, when 13 hitters faced three La Sierra pitchers.
Young said this year's team is not bent on bettering last season's results, but he is optimistic that this year's group can surpass last year's in terms of intensity.
"Last year was the past," Young said. "We've got a new group of guys, but we have the same goal. I would say this team is even more competitive. We have more guys who have a drive and a passion for the game."
Mejia, who missed a home run by a few feet on a towering two-run double to left in the fifth, joined Young and Arroyo with doubles, the only extra-base hits of the game.
It was the first game under new bat standards, which Grajeda said would cut down on home runs this season.
Vanguard 15, La Sierra 0
LSU 000 000 000 – 0 2 3
VU 004 020 71x – 15 13 1
Curriel, Gonzales (5), Johnson (7), Makorow (7), Opsvig (7) and Melendez; Garcia, Kohnke (4), Leal (7), Woods (8), Vega (9) and Rahier, Silva (9). W – Garcia, 1-0. L – Curriel, 0-1. 2B – Arroyo (VU), Mejia (VU), Young (VU).Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun