RIVERSIDE, Calif. -- The NAIA’s No. 2-ranked Azusa Pacific wrapped up the regular season with a doubleheader split at California Baptist, running its program-record winning streak to 24 games with an 8-5 win in the opener before surrendering 3 unearned runs in the final 3 innings in a narrow 4-3 defeat in the nightcap.
Stephen Vogt went 2-for-4 with a double in each game, raising his season batting average to .492, while wrapping up the Golden State Athletic Conference campaign hitting at a .515 clip in conference games.
The Cougars got right down to business in the first game. Matt Venegas hit a leadoff double, then scored on Vogt’s RBI single up the middle. Vogt stole second, his eighth steal of the season, and he scored on Stephen Gillette’s single through the left side to put Azusa Pacific up 2-0.
In the top of the third, Venegas again led off with a base hit, singling through the right side, and Vogt’s double to left center brought him home for a 3-0 Cougar lead. Scott Hodsdon doubled down the left field line to push the lead to 4-0, and Grant Beyer pushed the lead to a touchdown with a 3-run home run to left, his first home run of the season.
Jonny Bravo tossed 4 scoreless innings to start the game before California Baptist got to him for a pair of runs in the bottom of the fifth, cutting the lead to 7-2 on a sacrifice fly and an RBI single. Kirk Nieuwenhuis relieved Bravo to start the sixth inning, and after surrendering a 3-run home run to D.J. Hair that cut the lead to 7-5, surrendered just 1 hit over the final 3 innings to close out the game.
Gillette hit his 15th home run of the season, a seventh-inning solo shot to left that pushed the lead to 8-5.
The Cougars struck first in the nightcap, again posting a pair of runs in the top of the first. Venegas reached on an error, and Vogt doubled him in. Nieuwenhuis hit a 2-out single to center to score Rod Wilson, giving Azusa Pacific a 2-0 advantage. Eddie Crespo’s third-inning RBI single up the middle with 2 outs scored Nieuwenhuis from third for a 3-0 Cougar lead. At that point, California Baptist brought in Brandon Daily, who tossed the final 4 1/3 innings, giving up just 1 hit and 1 walk while striking out 4.
In the bottom of the third, California Baptist pinch hitter Steve Sanchez led off with a single, Jordan Monroe reached on a bunt single and Brandon Peters singled to load the bases with no outs against Hodsdon. The senior righthander got Lancers slugger Aaron Seuss to ground into a double play, scoring Dominic Zuniga from third to cut the lead to 3-1. In the bottom of the fifth, Monroe reached on a 2-out error, and Peters took advantage of the opportunity, knocking a game-tying 2-run home run to right to even the game at 3-3.
Hodsdon left the game after 6 innings, giving way to Ian Kelly, who gave up an unearned run with 1 out in the seventh that snapped the Cougars’ win streak at 24 games. Peters drove in the winning run for California Baptist after Kelly struck out Steve Goins with runners on second and third.
With the split, Azusa Pacific wraps up the regular season with a 44-5 overall record, 32-4 in GSAC play. The Cougars’ .889 conference winning percentage is the second-highest in GSAC history behind Biola’s 27-3 (.900) campaign in 2005. The 32 conference wins represents a GSAC record, shattering the previous record of 27 held by Biola in 2005 in a 30-game conference schedule and California Baptist in 2006, which went 27-5 in a 32-game conference slate.
California Baptist finishes the regular season winning 10 of its final 11 games for a 34-16 record overall, tying for second in the GSAC standings at 23-13 in conference play.
By virtue of winning the GSAC title, Azusa Pacific will be the top seed in the 6-team NAIA Region II Playoffs, which begin Friday, May 4, with first-round contests at the top 3 seeds before the remainder of the tournament shifts to Azusa Pacific from May 8-10. The Cougars’ first-round opponent could be the GSAC’s sixth-place San Diego Christian, although an NAIA Region II independent may be considered for selection into the double-elimination tournament. Full playoff information will be available at www.apu.edu/athletics once the playoff field has been selected.