SAN DIEGO, Calif. -- Azusa Pacific needed a split against Point Loma Nazarene Saturday afternoon to maintain its lead atop the Golden State Athletic Conference standings, and the Cougars held their end of the bargain, although a valuable road sweep slipped from the Cougars’ grasp when the Sea Lions completed a 7-run comeback in the final 2 innings and answered Kirk Nieuwenhuis’ eighth-inning solo shot with back-to-back 1-out home runs to steal an 11-10 win in the nightcap. The Cougars won the opener, 4-0.
Jonny Bravo was dominant in the first game, tossing 7.1 innings of scoreless ball with 6 strikeouts before giving way to fellow southpaw Zach Pettikas with 1 out and runners on first and second in the bottom of the eighth inning. Pettikas induced a double-play ball to end the eighth inning, then worked his way through a scoreless ninth to earn his third save of the season.
Only 3 Point Loma Nazarene baserunners reached second while Bravo was pitching, and it was Azusa Pacific’s second shutout of the season. The first was a 10-0 blanking of Bethany, in a game where Bravo earned the victory.
The Cougars got on the board in the top of the second inning, when Stephen Gillette’s sacrifice fly to center brought in Kirk Nieuwenhuis, who led off the inning with a single to right. Three innings later, Gillette scored on Galen Komo’s grounder to second, then Scott Hodsdon drew a bases-loaded walk to give Bravo a 3-0 lead to work with.
Freshman Brice Cutspec drew another bases-loaded walk in the top of the seventh, giving the Cougars the final 4-0 margin.
In the second game, Matt Venegas and Stephen Vogt opened the game with back-to-back singles, and Nieuwenhuis brought them both in with a double down the left field line that gave the Cougars a 2-0 lead. Eddie Crespo led off the second with a single, and Matt Venegas singled up the middle to set the table for Stephen Vogt’s 3-run shot over the right-field fence that gave the Cougars a 5-1 lead.
After each team posted single runs in the third, Cougar starter Ryan Zaft put the first 2 Sea Lions batters on in the bottom of the fourth, surrendering a leadoff double to Jesse Gill followed by a walk to Andy Reilly. A sacrifice put the runners on second and third with 1 out, but Zaft struck out Drew Bernhard and got Alex Cameron to fly out to center to escape the jam.
After extending their lead to 9-2 in the sixth inning with 3 unearned runs aided by 2 Point Loma Nazarene errors, but the Sea Lions came back with a single run in the bottom of the sixth before scoring 6 runs to tie the game in bottom of the seventh to force extra innings. Freshman pinch-hitter Ian MacMaster brought in the final 2 of the inning with a 2-out single to right to even the game at 9-9.
Nieuwenhuis led off the top of the eighth inning with a blast over the right field fence to bring the lead right back to Azusa Pacific at 10-9, but Mike Reynolds evened it with a 1-out blast in the bottom of the eighth, and cleanup man Kevin Campbell went deep to end the game.
With the split, Azusa Pacific is now 17-2 overall, 10-2 in the GSAC, remaining a game ahead of second-place Point Loma Nazarene, which is now 13-4 overall and 9-3 in GSAC play. The Cougars return to action with a midweek series against The Master’s, hosting a single game on Wednesday, March 7 at 5 p.m. before visiting the Mustangs in a 2:30 p.m. contest on Thursday, March 8.