AZUSA, Calif. -- The NAIA’s No. 2-ranked Azusa Pacific wasted no time getting out to a big lead, and the Cougars posted a 14-2 win over No. 25-ranked Point Loma Nazarene in Game 5 of the NAIA Region II Baseball Playoffs. Under NAIA regional tournament rules, the 10-run rule ended the game after 7 innings.
The Cougars are now 2-0 in the double-elimination tournament, advancing to a Wednesday morning winner’s-bracket matchup with the winner of tonight’s contest between Concordia and No. 16-ranked California Baptist.
With runners on first and second with 1 out in the bottom of the first inning, co-GSAC Player of the Year Scott Hodsdon drove a liner to straightaway center field for a 2-run double. After advancing to third on the first of 5 Point Loma Nazarene wild pitches, Hodsdon scored on Kirk Nieuwenhuis’ groundout to shortstop, giving the Cougars an early 3-0 lead.
“I like hitting behind them because I have a sense of responsibility,” said Nieuwenhuis. “A lot of time I get up in the first inning with 2 outs, so it’s kind of fun to just get right into it. It’s taken some time and hard work to just get up there without overthinking, but I’ve been feeling a lot better at the plate.”
For Nieuwenhuis, it was the first of a career-high 6 RBIs, and it set the tone for an efficient Cougar offense that cashed in 14 runs on just 9 hits, including 10 runs on just 4 hits in a 2-inning stretch. Nieuwenhuis collected the lone hit in a 5-run fourth inning, a 2-out, 2-run double down the right field line.
With runners on second and third and 2 outs, Point Loma Nazarene replaced starter Taylor Cameron with Johnnie Lowe, who issued back-to-back wild pitches on his first 2 offerings to score Hodsdon and Nieuwenhuis, and the Cougars held a commanding 9-2 advantage after 4 innings. An inning later, the Cougars added 5 more on just 3 hits, the last on Nieuwenhuis’ 3-run home run to right that gave the sophomore center fielder his first career 6-RBI game.
“One of our goals today was to be patient,” said Cougar head coach Paul Svagdis, whose Cougars drew nearly as many walks (7) as it produced hits (9). “We knew Cameron was a great pitcher for years in this league, and we knew that in order to be effective, we had to make him work. If we chased too much, that would be when he becomes really effective. I thought the guys did a good job being patient.”
Cougar starter Jonny Bravo gave up 2 runs on 4 hits in the second inning before settling into a groove. After surrendering a leadoff single in the third to Alex Cameron, Bravo induced a pop fly and an inning-ending double play grounder, the first 2 of 9 straight Sea Lions batters retired by the sophomore lefty.
“If you look at that inning, he had a ball hit up the middle that our second baseman got to, and with runners on first and third he jammed a guy but gave up a base hit right over Scott’s head (at third),” said Svagdis. “I felt like that inning they didn’t hit the ball great and Jonny pitched well, but you turn around and they’ve scored 2 runs.”
Bravo’s complete-game win was his team-high 10th of the season, and he allowed only 2 hits outside of the Sea Lions’ 4-hit second frame.
Every Cougar batter reached safely, with Nieuwenhuis and leadoff hitter Matt Venegas collecting the only multiple-hit games with 2 hits each. Hodsdon finished 1-for-2 with a pair of walks, 3 runs and 3 RBIs to give him 87 RBIs on the season. Co-GSAC Player of the Year Stephen Vogt drew walks in each of his first 3 at-bats and finished 0-for-1, and Grant Beyer scored 3 runs in a 1-for-4 afternoon in which he reached on a hit-batsman and a wild pitch on a swinging strikeout.
“Vogt took his walks and put the bat in Scott’s hands, and Scott took his walks and put it in Nieuwenhuis’ hands, and Kirk stepped up when he needed to,” said Svagdis. “I think a team needs to trust the entire lineup to know that they can take their free pass and let the next guy get to the plate.”
With the win, Azusa Pacific improves to 46-5 on the season, winning 26 of its past 27 games. Point Loma Nazarene suffered its second straight loss and is eliminated from the tournament, ending its season with a 30-18 overall record.
Team tournament statistics, updated schedules and game box scores are available at the NAIA Region II Baseball Playoffs Tournament Central page located under the Region II portion of the NAIA’s official website, www.naia.org.