AZUSA, Calif. -- The memory of Azusa Pacific’s last GSAC defeat helped the NAIA’s No. 2-ranked Cougars produce a 6-2 victory over The Master’s Thursday evening, giving Azusa Pacific the 2-game midweek series sweep over the Mustangs. The teams split the series 3 weeks ago when The Master’s came back from an 11-3 defeat to the Cougars to post a 5-4, 10-inning win to earn the split.
Starting pitcher Brad Boekestein cruised through 3 relatively easy innings to start the game, but put Mustang runners on base in each of the next 4 innings, including a fourth inning in which he surrendered 3 hits and walked a batter without allowing The Master’s to plate a run.
“It’s a pride thing – they beat us and it’s a blemish on our record,” said Boekestein, who improved to 6-0 with a team-best 2.39 ERA. “I was the one starting the game we lost (to Master’s). I took it personally, because I’m the one that gave up the runs. I came out with almost an extra sense of revenge and going out and doing my job as a pitcher.”
Pete Goeman led off the fourth inning with a single up the middle, but ran into the first out when Stephen Vogt gunned him down trying to steal second. After another groundout, the Mustangs pieced together back-to-back singles before Joel Oliver drew a walk to load the bases with 2 outs. Boekestein registered the second of his 3 strikeouts to end the threat.
“I’ve been in quite a few of those situations this year, and I’ve gotten out of them, so there’s confidence that I’ve done that before,” said Boekestein. “A lot of times pitchers will try to get 3 outs with 1 pitch instead of just working hitter-by-hitter. I try to just stay calm and continue to attack the hitters.”
An inning later, Joseph Chavarria singled with 2 outs and stole second, but Boekestein’s 3-2 offering to Goeman induced a weak liner back to the mound for the third out, again keeping The Master’s off the scoreboard.
“The nice thing about Brad is he’s got a lot of movement,” said Vogt. “I was able to just tell him to start the ball down the middle and let it move. He kept them off-balance. When he got into trouble, he didn’t panic. He did a great job and made the pitches he needed to.”
Azusa Pacific left 2 runners on base in each of the first 2 innings before breaking the scoreless tie in the bottom of the third. Grant Beyer led off the inning with a chopper down the third base line, and he stretched it to a double with an aggressive turn around first base. Vogt brought Beyer around with a solid single up the middle to give the Cougars a 1-0 lead.
Kirk Nieuwenhuis, who went 4-for-5 in Wednesday’s road victory over The Master’s, led off the bottom of the sixth with a double, part of a 3-for-4 evening for the Cougar centerfielder. Brice Cutspec, who struck out and grounded into a double play in his first 2 at-bats, drilled a high 2-1 fastball over the 355-foot marking on the left-center field fence to push Azusa Pacific’s lead to 3-0. Cutspec’s laser was his 10th home run of the season and is now the fourth Cougar to reach double figures in home runs.
“It’s pretty obvious by now we’re a big lineup,” said Vogt. “One through 9, we can all drive the ball, and teams notice that. Our guys in the dugout do a great job with the charts and they let me know (Reiner) was throwing a lot of offspeed. We were able to sit offspeed and look for a pitch to drive, and when we got it, we did it.”
The Master’s cut the lead to 3-1 on Brian Jeanjaquet’s RBI double, but Boekestein retired the next batter on a fly ball to center before giving way to Garrett Lebsock, who hit a batter before striking out Goeman for the second out. After issuing an intentional walk to the left-handed Steve Shaver, Lebsock induced an inning-ending grounder to third to preserve the 3-1 advantage.
“Towards the end when I went out there that last inning, I could feel that I was getting tired, and a couple guys got on base,” said Boekestein. “I really had to focus, but I knew if I got in trouble we had guys ready to come in like Lebsock or Hodsdon or Pettikas. I feel we have the best bullpen in the league, and they would get us out of it. There’s never really any panic on our team, which is great.”
The Cougars answered by tacking on 3 more runs in the bottom of the seventh, the first on a Nieuwenhuis single up the middle that scored Rod Wilson. Scott Hodsdon moved to second on the base hit, and the Cougars loaded the bases with 2 outs when Cutspec was hit with an 0-2 offering from tiring Mustangs starter Brian Reiner. A pair of runners scored on a hard grounder at the second baseman, who misplayed it into a 2-run error that gave the Cougars a 6-1 lead.
Zach Pettikas entered the game with a 6-2 lead in the ninth and struck out the first 2 batters he faced after working to a full count, then got Shaver to fly out to center to end the game.
Vogt and Nieuwenhuis collected 3 hits apiece to pace the Cougars’ 13-hit attack, and all 9 Azusa Pacific starters reached base safely at least once. Eddie Crespo was the only other Cougar with multiple hits, twice beating out high choppers up the middle for infield hits.
“Baseball is a game of peaks and valleys,” said Cougar head coach Paul Svagdis. “Hopefully we have 9 guys in the lineup, where if 2 or 3 of them are peaking, we can score some runs. We’ve been really fortunate that the middle of the lineup has been stepping up. Scotty was great yesterday, Vogt has just been consistent all year, and now to have Nieuwenhuis step up is great. Hopefully it creates some consistency and makes it tough to pitch to our team.”
With the win, Azusa Pacific has now won 10 straight GSAC games and 12 straight overall, improving its record to 32-4 overall, 21-3 in GSAC. It was the first time The Master’s has been swept in a midweek GSAC 2-game series this season, and it dropped the Mustangs to 16-20 overall and 9-14 in GSAC play. The Cougars are back in action for a GSAC doubleheader at home against San Diego Christian Saturday at 11 a.m., the last conference action for Azusa Pacific for a 2-week stretch.
“The one thing we can’t do is look ahead too far,” said Boekestein. “We have to stay focused, because the team that wins the (regional) tournament isn’t necessarily the team that wins the league. We need to stay focused game-by-game, pitch-by-pitch, and hopefully we come into the tournament as the hottest team.”
Tickets still remain for the Cougars’ April 4 visit to the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, the Class A California League affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and they can be purchased for $5 each at the Felix Event Center ticket office on West Campus, the Alumni House on East Campus or through the Azusa Pacific baseball office. Azusa Pacific professor Dave McIntire will perform the national anthem just prior to the 6:05 p.m. start.