AZUSA, Calif. -- With his team’s back to the wall, Scott Hodsdon turned in a complete-game 4-hit shutout in a 5-0 win over Biola to send the NAIA’s No. 2-ranked Azusa Pacific into the championship of the NAIA Region II Baseball Playoffs, where the Cougars will take on a Concordia squad that cruised to an 11-4 win over Azusa Pacific in Wednesday’s opening game.
“We felt like the guys were prepared. It’s been a long season, we’ve played a lot of games, and we’ve played good baseball for a very long time,” said Cougar head coach Paul Svagdis. “Unfortunately in that first game today, we played 3 areas of the game pretty average. In a playoff situation, when you’re playing average defense, average offense and average pitching, you’re going to go out and get whacked, and that’s what happened to us.”
The Cougars improve to 3-1 in the double-elimination tournament, and they will face defending Region II tournament champion Concordia as the Eagles come off back-to-back 11-run outbursts in a pair of tournament games spanning less than 20 total hours. It will be another must-win scenario for Azusa Pacific just to force a final game for the Region II championship, which would immediately follow tomorrow’s 2:15 p.m. contest.
“We’ve been challenged this year, because we weren’t expected to do a lot this year, so every week we’ve gone out there with a chip on our shoulder in the sense that we have to go out and play hard every time we step on the field,” said Svagdis. “I got a real adrenaline rush personally, knowing that when we walked out on the field, that was it. It was either win or go home, and there was something exciting about that challenge today. I think tomorrow the guys are going to have that same enthusiasm, because they know if they don’t play well, they’re going to be packing up and going home.”
Hodsdon, who tossed a 7-inning, 3-hit shutout against Biola that helped him net NAIA Player of the Week honors, struck out 9 Eagle batters in a dominating performance that ended Biola’s season just 3 hours after they upset No. 16-ranked California Baptist, 12-8, to advance to the evening elimination game with Azusa Pacific. Despite a potential rematch with Concordia looming Thursday, the Cougars handed the ball to the conference’s ERA leader in Hodsdon with the season on the line.
“I’m not a rocket scientist, but I can’t really worry about tomorrow,” said Svagdis. “We knew coming in that Scott was going to throw either in a championship game or an elimination game. I think I would have been crazy not to go with my best guy in this situation.”
All-GSAC first baseman Brice Cutspec slammed a pair of towering home runs over the right field fence, accounting for the Cougars’ final 4 runs after a lone run in the bottom of the fourth. In the bottom of the fifth inning, co-GSAC Players of the Year Stephen Vogt and Hodsdon each had back-to-back 1-out hits, with Hodsdon doubling off the left-center field fence to put runners on second and third with 1 out. Biola’s Jimmy Johnson, who started and threw 4 innings in the Eagles’ win over California Baptist earlier in the day, notched a strikeout to get the second out of the inning, and he worked a favorable 1-2 count against Cutspec. However, the freshman lefthander drilled Johnson’s offering for a 3-run shot that gave the Cougars a 4-0 lead.
“I had a horrible first game today,” said Cutspec, who went 0-for-4 with 3 strikeouts and a walk in the Cougars’ 11-4 loss to Concordia earlier in the day. “I was way off, and I just wanted to pull through in our second game today and help carry the team a little bit. I felt bad because I was horrible against Concordia, so I just wanted to come out, be aggressive as I could and not leave anything out on the field.”
Three innings later, Cutspec hammered a 2-0 pitch to nearly the same spot on Alosta Avenue for a solo home run, his 16th of the season, and Azusa Pacific held a 5-0 lead in the bottom of the eighth.
Meanwhile, Hodsdon went about shutting down the Biola offense, allowing just 2 baserunners to reach second base in the victory. The senior righthander tallied 6 of his 9 strikeouts in the final 3 innings, including 4 straight outs by way of the “K” in the seventh and eighth innings. Hodsdon issued just 1 walk, and he did not allow multiple baserunners in any inning.
“It was a win or go home situation, so I knew I had to step it up,” said Hodsdon. “I just tried to stay relaxed and not worry about it too much. I just wanted to trust my ability, come out with intensity and just pitch like I know how to pitch. Things didn’t go well for us in that first game, but we came out and did what we had to do and got a great win.”
Biola starter Charlie Gausepohl held the Cougars scoreless through the first 3 innings, but Kirk Nieuwenhuis dropped a 1-out bunt single down the third base line, and Cutspec singled to center to set up Stephen Gillette’s RBI double down the right field line, giving the Cougars a 1-0 lead.
Cutspec led all batters with 3 hits, while Hodsdon and Vogt each collected a pair of hits to lead the Cougars’ 10-hit attack.
With the win, Azusa Pacific improves to 47-6 on the season, while Biola’s season concludes with a final record of 30-24.
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.