LA MIRADA, Calif. -- The NAIA’s No. 3-ranked Azusa Pacific never trailed while posting a 9-3, 6-0 doubleheader sweep over No. 9-ranked Biola, giving the Cougars a pair of the most significant wins in program history.
For starters, it was Azusa Pacific’s first season sweep over the Eagles since Biola joined the GSAC in 1995, and it made the 2007 Cougar squad the fastest in program history to reach 30 wins in a season. It extended Azusa Pacific’s current winning streak to 10 games, and it wraps up a whirlwind 9-game stretch over the past 8 days without a blemish on the Cougars’ record.
“It’s kind of surreal,” said senior catcher Stephen Vogt. “We’ve struggled against Biola all 4 years I’ve been here, and to sweep them in the regular season… it just feels really good. It’s always tough to win in this park, especially to win twice. We don’t talk about the rivalry on the team – the school does enough of that already – we just came out and played today and didn’t worry about any of that.”
The significance of the victories was also evident in the GSAC standings, as the first-place Cougars sent a red-hot Biola squad into third place in the standings with just 3 runs in 16 innings of action this afternoon. Biola was 2 days removed from plastering 23 runs on The Master’s in a win that gave the Eagles 15 wins in its past 17 games.
“These guys know that every time they step on the field, they have something to prove, and so we’re going to keep playing that way,” said Cougar head coach Paul Svagdis. “We want to play hard and play the right way every time we step on the field, whether we’re playing Biola, which is a rival and ranked ninth in the country, or anybody else. Our guys played really hard today, and I’m especially proud of our seniors.”
Senior Scott Hodsdon hit his 14th home run of the season in the Cougars’ 9-3 victory in the opener, then tossed a complete-game 3-hit shutout in the nightcap to go with a first-inning RBI double in the 6-0 win in the nightcap.
Hodsdon cruised through 3 perfect innings to start the game, striking out 4 Biola batters. With a 4-0 lead in the bottom of the fourth, Biola rapped 3 straight singles to start the inning, loading the bases with no outs. However, Hodsdon struck out Nick Dietzen, fielded a comebacker to force Chris Foreman out at the plate for the second out, then escaped the jam by striking out Kris Cook to end the inning. Hodsdon allowed just 1 more Biola batter to reach base when a 1-out seventh-inning pitch hit Matt Smith.
“I was just thinking that I needed to keep pitching the same way, and everything would work out,” said Hodsdon. “I had a lot of confidence that we would pull through, and our offense is always good. I just tried to do a good job getting ahead, and I was lucky enough to do well.”
Hodsdon finished the game with 8 strikeouts and completed a near-perfect 8-day stretch in which he saved 2 games, struck out 17 batters and allowed just 3 hits in 12 and two-thirds innings of work in 4 appearances.
“I’m pretty exhausted, but it’s been a good week for us,” said Hodsdon. “We did well this week, especially getting a couple wins against a good team today. That was huge for us.”
Senior catcher Stephen Vogt collected 2 hits in each game, giving him 20 multiple-hit games and extending his current hitting streak to 23 games, lifting his season batting average to .473 while catching all 16 innings behind the plate for the Cougar pitching staff.
“It was really easy to catch today,” said Vogt. “All 3 of our pitchers really made it easy for me. I can’t say enough about the jobs they did today – they did a great job and led us to the victory .They’ve been doing well all year, and today was no different.”
In the first game, every Azusa Pacific batter hit safely, and the first 5 hitters in the lineup each collected 2 hits. Stephen Gillette hit his 11th home run of the season, a second-inning solo shot that gave the Cougars a 1-0 lead, and Hodsdon hit a leadoff solo shot in the top of the third inning to increase the lead to 2-0. Biola evened it up at 2-2 on Danny Morrow’s 2-run home run to left in the bottom of the third.
“It’s nice to have (Hodsdon) and Vogt hitting in tandem,” said Svagdis. “When you get your 3 and 4 hitter hitting together, whether they’re seniors or freshmen, you feel like good things are happening. I’ve been really excited that the bottom half of the lineup has been carrying us, and now our top half of the lineup is starting to pull through a little bit for us right now, and I think that’s where we want to be.”
Stephen Kohatsu’s run-scoring single up the middle in the top of the fifth inning plated Grant Beyer, giving the Cougars the lead for good at 3-2, and Azusa Pacific scored in each of the final 4 innings, including Brice Cutspec’s 2-run shot down the left-field line in the ninth inning that provided the final 2 runs in the 9-3 win.
After giving up back-to-back 1-out singles in the bottom of the fourth inning, Cougar starter Zach Pettikas retired the next 10 Biola batters before Garrett Lebsock took over for the final 2 innings. Pettikas picked up his fifth victory of the season, scattering 2 runs on 7 hits while striking out 5 in 7 innings of work.
“(Pettikas) struggled early in the game, and he wasn’t himself,” said Svagdis. “After about 4 innings, he started to settle down, and we only had to go to Lebsock for 2 innings, so you’ve got to be happy with our pitching staff today.”
In the second game, the Cougar offense picked up where it left off after its 16-hit attack in the opener. Kirk Nieuwenhuis singled to center with 1 out in the first, and Vogt promptly brought him around to open the scoring with a double down the right-field line. Hodsdon gave himself a 2-0 lead to work with after following Vogt’s double with an RBI double down the left-field line.
The Cougars added 2 more in the second inning on Matt Venegas’ 2-run home run, an inside-the-park drive to straightaway center that Foreman, the Biola centerfielder, had difficulty retrieving from the warning track area. Venegas continued around the bases, and the umpires ruled the ball was in play and the Cougars had opened up a 4-0 lead.
Azusa Pacific left runners on base in the fifth and sixth innings before capitalizing again in the seventh, as Vogt tripled to left center to score James O’Neill for a 5-0 lead. Pinch-runner Rod Wilson replaced Vogt at third and scored on a wild pitch to wrap up the scoring.
“We come out every day just like we did at the beginning of the season,” said Vogt. “We have something to prove, and we feel that we’re not good enough. We haven’t proven ourselves yet, and we’re never going to prove ourselves until we’re in Lewiston on top of the mountain. That’s when we can look back and say we proved ourselves. Until that day, we’re still going to play hard and we’re going to play as if we are the underdog.”
With the sweep, Azusa Pacific improves to 30-4 overall, 19-3 in GSAC, while Biola drops to 19-9 overall and 13-8 in GSAC play. The Cougars face The Master’s in a midweek home-and-home series Wednesday and Thursday. Azusa Pacific’s last conference defeat came at the hands of the Mustangs in a 5-4 10-inning affair in Santa Clarita, where the Cougars will visit for a 2:30 p.m. contest Wednesday. The Master’s has split 7 of its 10 2-game series with GSAC foes this season.