AZUSA, Calif. -- After jumping to an 8-0 lead after 4 innings, Azusa Pacific’s baseball team appeared to be headed into this weekend’s GSAC-opening doubleheader against Biola with yet another dominating win. However, a 6-run, 3-error fifth inning served as a harsh wake-up call before the Cougars eventually held on to defeat Whittier, 9-6.
The victory was Azusa Pacific’s seventh straight, and it ties the program record for a season-opening win streak, sending the 2007 Cougars into the record books with the 2001 squad that won its first seven contests. One more victory would give the Cougars 8 consecutive wins to start the season for the first time in the program’s 42-year history.
The fifth inning cast some doubt as to whether the Cougars would have that opportunity. Sophomore righthander Christian Gagné, making his first collegiate start, had tossed 4 scoreless innings and retired the last 5 Whittier batters, 3 of them by strikeout. In the top of the fifth, the Poets slapped their first back-to-back hits to start the inning, then pushed across their first run when Blake Coddington’s grounder to short was mishandled.
Junior lefty Kraig Bailey came on to relieve Gagné, but the first batter he faced brought in another Whittier run with another misplayed grounder to short. With runners on first and second, Ryan Martin grounded into what could have been a double play, but junior third baseman James O’Neill’s throw to first was wide after he stepped on third for the first out of the inning. Ty Crawford singled to right, bringing in another run to cut the Cougar lead to 8-3, and Nick Taiariol singled to load the bases with 1 out. Riley Bateman’s 1-hopper to first was misplayed, bringing in another run, and Chris Kennison slapped a 2-run single to right, bringing the Poets to within 8-6. Bailey got Patrick Martin to ground to O’Neill, who threw out Bateman at home for the second out, then brought the inning to an end when Charles Acker lined out to left.
Sophomore righthander Scott Thur came on to start the sixth inning, and he proceeded to shut down the Poets, tossing 4 scoreless innings to pick up the win.
The heart of the lineup carried the Cougar offense, albeit without the services of the long ball for the first time this season. Sophomore Kirk Nieuwenhuis went 3-for-4 with a double, 2 runs and 2 RBIs, while freshman Brice Cutspec and seniors Scott Hodsdon and Stephen Vogt each collected 2 hits, giving the numbers 3 through 6 hitters 9 of the Cougar’s 11 hits in the game.
A 2-out walk drawn by Vogt in the bottom of the first sparked a 5-run inning for the Cougars. Vogt stole second, then scored after Hodsdon’s popup to shallow right field as dropped by the Whittier second baseman to give Azusa Pacific an early 1-0 lead. Nieuwenhuis and Cutspec hit back-to-back infield singles that brought Hodsdon around to score, and sophomore Stephen Gillette drew a walk to load the bases. With a 3-2 count, junior shortstop Grant Beyer hit a dipping liner to right center that Whittier centerfielder Charles Acker nearly turned into a spectacular grab for the third out, but it fell to the ground for a bases-clearing single that gave the Cougars a 5-0 lead.
In the bottom of the third inning, Cutspec drove Nieuwenhuis in with an RBI double, then scored on junior Eddie Crespo’s single to left, giving the Cougars a 7-0 lead and knocking Whittier starter Matt Schwarz out of the game.Although Schwarz was tagged with the loss, 5 of the 7 runs he gave up were unearned. Vogt pushed the lead to 8-0 in the bottom of the fourth inning after drawing another walk and scoring on Nieuwenhuis’ double to deep center field.
Crespo also drove in the Cougars’ final run, scoring sophomore David Parsons from third on a sacrifice fly to deep left field in the bottom of the seventh.
With the win, Azusa Pacific improves to 7-0 on the season, while Whittier drops to 0-5. The Cougars kick off Golden State Athletic Conference action this weekend, hosting a Feb. 10 doubleheader beginning at 11 a.m. with conference rival Biola.