AZUSA, Calif. -- Senior starter Scott Hodsdon worked his way out of a 1-out bases-loaded jam to start the game, and Jonny Bravo did the same to finish it, leading the NAIA’s No. 2-ranked Azusa Pacific to a 6-5 win over Patten Friday afternoon in the first round of the NAIA Region II Baseball Playoffs.
The Cougars advance to a Tuesday matchup with Point Loma Nazarene, a 2-1 loser to Concordia this afternoon in San Diego, in the double-elimination tournament which will shift exclusively to Azusa Pacific from May 8-10.
Hodsdon struck out 10 batters in a gutty 8-inning performance that was characterized by the way he escaped the first-inning jam. With runners on the corners and 1 out in the first, Hodsdon issued a walk to Patten’s cleanup hitter Joseph Johnson to load the bases before striking out the next 2 batters to get out of the inning.
Patten took its first lead of the game at 5-4 with 1 out in the top of the eighth after Chris Brigham’s RBI double, but Hodsdon struck out the final 2 batters of the inning to set up an Azusa Pacific comeback in the bottom half of the inning. In the bottom of the eighth, Kirk Nieuwenhuis snapped a 4-inning hitless streak for the Cougars with a leadoff single up the middle, and Brice Cutspec drew a walk off Patten starter Daniel Silvas, who had retired 13 of the last 15 batters before the eighth inning.
“We don’t quit, it’s obvious now,” said GSAC Co-Player of the Year Stephen Vogt, who turned in his fifth straight multi-hit game with a 2-for-4 performance. “We feel like we’re never out of the game. As soon as Kirk got on, we knew it was go time. Patten’s a very good team, and they definitely deserve to be in this tournament. They’re a very, very good team. They’re scrappy, and they never felt like they were out of it.”
With runners on first and second with no outs, Patten handed the ball over to the bullpen, and Brandon Boyd struck out the first batter he faced before pinch-hitter Stephen Kohatsu beat out a weak grounder that died about halfway to third between the pitcher’s mound and the third-base line to load the bases with 1 out. Eddie Crespo singles through the right side to tie the game at 5-5, then broke up a potential double play ball up the middle to allow Shaun Lane to cross the plate with the go-ahead run.
“We’re getting closer to that finish line, and we have reiterated to the team to stay focused and keep going with the process,” said Azusa Pacific’s GSAC Coach of the Year Paul Svagdis. “We got away with a few times during the season where we didn’t play sound baseball, but we used it as a learning experience. When we start playing better teams in that playoff format, those little things are going to make all the difference in the world.”
Facing the top of a Patten lineup whose first 4 hitters combined for 10 of the Lions’ 14 hits, Bravo surrendered a leadoff single to Wells. Oscar Ochoa’s attempted sacrifice bunt went directly back to Bravo, who fired to second to put out the lead runner and leave a runner at first with 1 out. The All-GSAC lefthander wasn’t out of trouble yet after giving up back-to-back singles up the middle to load the bases with 1 out. However, DeJuan Johnson’s sharp grounder up the middle was fielded cleanly by All-GSAC shortstop Matt Venegas, who stepped on second himself and fired to first for the game-saving double play.
The double play was the second turned by Azusa Pacific in the game, and it gave Bravo the save in his first relief appearance of the season, and Hodsdon improved to 8-1 on the season with the victory.
Azusa Pacific wasted no time taking the early lead, as Vogt lifted a high fly ball to left that drifted back to the fence before dropping in for a hit just in front of the fence. Patten left fielder Jonathan Overall tracked the ball the whole way before struggling with the Cougars’ unique left-field warning track which features an inclined grass berm.
“I felt like I got a pretty good bat on it, although I knew I missed it,” said Vogt. “I knew it wasn’t going out, but you never know. Silvas has gotten a lot better from when we saw him last year. He was very, very good today. He kept us off-balance all day, and he had really good stuff. He pitched a really good game, but we just battled until we got to their bullpen.”
The RBI double gave the Cougars the early lead, and 2 batters later, Nieuwenhuis hit a 2-run home run to right that gave Azusa Pacific a 3-0 lead.
Patten tied it on Jennings’ 3-run blast to right field with 1 out in the top of the third, but the Cougars quickly regained the lead in the bottom of the third on Stephen Gillette’s 2-out solo shot to left that gave Azusa Pacific a 4-3 advantage. The 1-run lead held up for just an inning, as DeJuan Johnson’s 2-out single to right scored David Lievanos from second base to tie the game at 4-4. However, with runners on first and second, Joshua Harrell’s single up the middle brought a perfect throw from Nieuwenhuis in center that nailed Jennings at the plate for the third out of the inning, leaving the game deadlocked at 4-4 for another 3 innings before Patten went ahead in the eighth.
Silvas took the hard-luck loss despite a near-perfect 4-inning stretch after giving up Gillette’s third-inning solo home run. He was charged with 6 runs on 7 hits and struck out 7 Cougar batters in the loss. Lievanos led all batters with 4 hits, all singles, and Jennings went 2-for-3 with a pair of walks for Patten’s 14-hit attack.
Vogt and Nieuwenhuis led the way for Azusa Pacific with 2 hits apiece, and each also drew 1 of the Cougars’ 6 walks in the game.
“After those first few innings, Silvas got his slider back, and you could just see it slow our offense down,” said Svagdis. “I knew he was starting to shut us down, but the process was right and it paid off in the end. We don’t worry when that happens, because not one of our guys lost their offensive plan. I just think baseball’s a tough game sometimes. Our guys battled at the plate today.”
With the win, Azusa Pacific improves to 45-5 on the season, and the Cougars continue play in the NAIA Region II Baseball Playoffs when the double-elimination tournament resumes for 3 days beginning next Tuesday, with all remaining games to be played at Azusa Pacific, the 2007 GSAC champion.
Patten drops to 25-25 on the season and will take on the loser of tonight’s California Baptist/Biola first-round contest in the tournament’s first elimination game on Tuesday at 11 a.m. Following that game, Azusa Pacific takes on first-round loser Point Loma Nazarene, and the 5:30 p.m. contest will feature a matchup between first-round winner Concordia and the winner of tonight’s California Baptist/Biola game.
Full playoff information is available at the NAIA Region II Baseball Playoffs Tournament Central page at the NAIA Region II website.