RANCHO CUCAMONGA, Calif. -- In a contest designed to help warm up the prospects of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and showcase the Azusa Pacific baseball program, the NAIA’s No. 2-ranked Cougars stunned the Angels’ Class A California League affiliate Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, 5-4, with a hitless 5-run inning in its final at-bat Wednesday night at The Epicenter.
“It’s really a great event for our guys to play in a pro park against pro players and to have their families come out and watch them in that environment,” said Cougar head coach Paul Svagdis. “In terms of winning and losing, I just wanted the guys to go out and play well and represent the school the right way, and they did that. That’s a win from our standpoint.”
Azusa Pacific, held to just 2 hits through the first 6 innings of the 7-inning exhibition contest, trailed 4-0 heading into its final at-bat in the top of the seventh. However, the Cougars drew 5 walks and took advantage of a crucial Quakes error to tie the game at 4-4 before Stephen Vogt got caught in a rundown between first and second base on a pickoff throw to first, allowing Matt Venegas to score the go-ahead run before Vogt was tagged out to end the inning.
“The guy made a great move,” said Vogt. “I should have been more alert than that. As soon as I got picked off, I wanted to get into the rundown and stay in it as long as I could to try and let the run score. You know you’re out, and you’re not going to get away, you just have to stay away long enough to give that guy enough time to score, and I was able to do that.”
Rancho Cucamonga native Scott Hodsdon, who grew up just minutes from the stadium, struck out the first 2 batters in the bottom of the seventh and got a game-ending lineout to Venegas at shortstop to seal the victory for the Cougars. Hodsdon, who also struck out the final 2 batters to end the sixth inning, retired all 6 batters he faced in 2 perfect innings of relief and finished with 4 strikeouts.
“It’s great to be back in the hometown, and I was just glad I had the opportunity to go out there and throw well,” said Hodsdon. “I wasn’t supposed to throw the seventh, but since we went ahead, Coach gave me the green light. I was just fortunate to be able to go out again and do well. (I wanted to win) more than anything, especially as a college team coming to play a pro team, and it’s really good to have the opportunity to come out and play and compete and hopefully see more of this after the season. It’s good to get an idea of what it’s going to be like.”
Kirk Nieuwenhuis and James O’Neill drew walks to lead off the top of the seventh, and after a fly out to right, Stephen Gillette walked to load the bases with 1 out. Shaun Lane watched a 3-1 pitch come in off the mark to bring in Azusa Pacific’s first run with an RBI walk, and Rancho Cucamonga pitcher Eric Thomas was lifted in favor of Brad Beck with the top of the Cougar lineup due up.
The pitching change didn’t change the Quakes’ fortunes, as Venegas worked a full count against Beck before watching ball four to bring in O’Neill and cut the lead to 4-2. Despite the erratic Quakes pitching, pinch hitter David Parsons gave himself the green light on the first pitch, putting a hard grounder in play to second baseman Nate Sutton, who made a diving stop and threw to second for the potential double play. However, the ball slipped from shortstop Hainley Statia’s grasp, and Gillette and Lane both came around to score on Statia’s error to tie the game at 4-4.
“Normally, I wouldn’t swing at the first pitch, but it was right there and I took a hack at it,” said Parsons. “Three steps out (of the box), I took a glance and I saw him stop the ball, and I figured it was time to just try to break up the double play. This is what you live for as a ballplayer, to come in the clutch, get your shot and be able to do something amazing. This definitely ranks as a 10 for me. This couldn’t have gone any better.”
Vogt hit another grounder to Sutton, who flipped to Statia at second to force out Parsons for the second out, but Vogt was able to beat the throw to first and keep the inning alive. Venegas moved to third on the play to set up the game-winning rundown. The left-handed Beck caught Vogt off the bag at first with a nice pickoff move, and a quick-thinking Vogt took off for second. Vogt was able to draw a throw to second and stop in the basepath, giving Venegas enough time to cross the plate with the go-ahead run before the third out was recorded.
“It was really fun, and that was the bottom line,” said Vogt. “We just had a great time today. It’s a good opportunity for us, especially for guys who might have a chance to play after college, seeing that kind of pitching and playing in that atmosphere is really fun. It’s good for the school, playing against professionals, and we were lucky enough to pull out a win. You can’t ask for anything more than that.”
Gillette and Vogt were the only Cougars to record hits, with Gillette smacking a 1-out double to right center in the top of the third inning, and Vogt followed suit an inning later with another 1-out double to the left field wall.
“(Rancho Cucamonga starter Robert) Mosebach had a really good 2-seam (fastball), and the ball was really moving a lot,” said Vogt. “The at-bat before, he had thrown me all 2-seams away, so that’s what I was sitting on. He came in on me the first pitch, the second pitch he threw that 2-seamer on the outer half for a strike. Then he tried a backdoor slider and it hung. My eyes were set away, and I was lucky enough to get my bat on the ball and put a good piece on it.”
Venegas was robbed of a pair of hits, leading off the game with a solid grounder up the middle that was snagged by Statia for a groundout and seeing a 1-out drive to the right-field gap on a hit-and-run tracked down by Quakes right fielder Jordan Renz for a double play that doubled up Gillette at second.
“To start off the game, the ball Matt Venegas hits up the middle, no one else makes that play,” said Vogt. “That’s a great play. It’s just fun to play the game where you can’t make mistakes.”
Cougar pitchers set down 8 Quakes batters in the 7-inning contest, including 6 in the final 3 innings. Each of the first 5 innings saw a different Cougar pitcher before Hodsdon threw the final 2. Only starter Brad Boekestein, Jonny Bravo and Hodsdon faced the minimum number of batters. Boekestein surrendered a leadoff walk to Brad Coon, who advanced to second on a groundout. However Boekestein picked Coon off second base and induced a groundout to wrap up a scoreless first inning. Bravo struck out the first 2 batters he faced and got a groundout in a 12-pitch fifth inning.
Rancho Cucamonga struck first in the second inning, when Ben Johnson drove Ryan Zaft’s first pitch over the right field wall for a 1-0 lead. Zaft retired the next 3 batters, but the Quakes struck again in the third inning off Zach Pettikas, who had the bases empty with 2 outs in the frame. Coon doubled down the left field line, and Statia singled up the middle to score Coon. Sutton doubled to right, scoring Statia, but Cougar catcher Javier Ochoa nailed Sutton at third trying to stretch it into a triple to end the inning.
The Quakes added a single run in the fourth inning on Dallas Morris’ sacrifice fly to left scored Johnson from third base, giving Rancho Cucamonga a 4-0 lead.
The result of the game will not be reflected in Azusa Pacific’s terrific 2007 campaign, which currently features a 14-game winning streak and a 34-4 overall record. The Cougars are 23-3 in GSAC play, and after next week’s non-conference matchup with La Verne on Wednesday, April 11, will visit Westmont on Saturday, April 14 for a doubleheader that kicks off the final 10 games of the conference schedule.