The NAIA’s No. 2-ranked Cougars cranked out 16 hits, including 6 of the extra-base variety, to run away from No. 1 Lewis-Clark State for a 16-5 victory in the second game of the NAIA West Coast Super Regional, Thursday evening. With the victory, Azusa Pacific evens the best 2-of-3 series at 1 game apiece, forcing a rubber game Friday (May 18) at 7:05 p.m.
Azusa Pacific has now scored 27 runs in 2 games vs. Lewis-Clark State, which came into the super regional with an NAIA-leading 2.25 team ERA.
“We’re swinging the bats well right now,” said Cougar centerfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis, who was 4-for-4 tonight with a triple, 2 runs and an RBI. “One through 9 in our line-up, everyone is doing the job. When you have to throw off-speed to so many of our guys, then that can get tough on a staff.”
Lewis-Clark State took a quick 2-0 lead off Cougar ace Scott Hodsdon in the top of the first inning, but Hodsdon rectified the situation himself in his first plate appearance when he slugged a grand slam before the Cougars ever had an out to put Azusa Pacific up for good at 4-2. It was his school-record 24th home run of the season, a no-doubter over the left-center fence.
“That’s a pretty good pick-me-up after giving up 2 runs,” said Cougar coach Paul Svagdis.
It was the Cougars’ second grand slam in as many nights against Lewis-Clark State. Brice Cutspec crushed one in last night’s 14-11 loss to the Warriors.
“Once I hit it, I knew it was gone,” said Hodsdon. “They had just thrown me 2 fastballs so I was sitting off-speed, but they threw me another fast ball and I stayed back.”
Azusa Pacific added another run in the second inning and chased Warrior ace Matt Fitts in just 1.2 innings of work, tagging him for 5 runs. Still, the hit parade continued in spite of a revolving door of Warrior pitchers. The Cougars slapped 4 runs on Brian Bird in just 1.1 innings, 4 more during Jared Joaquin’s 3 innings of work, and the final 3 off Chris Schwinden in his 2 innings of pitching. The Cougars scored in every inning but the sixth, and even then they left a potential run at third base.
“The guys are sticking to their hitting plans,” said Svagdis, “and they’re making their pitching staff work and earn every pitch they throw.”
The Cougars blew open the game with a 5-run fourth inning to move out to a 12-3 lead. Eddie Crespo’s 2-out single to center scored 2 runs, and Stephen Gillette followed with a double down the right field line to score another run. With the bases loaded, Bird walked in another run, and a passed ball allowed the final run of the frame to score.
“It was much easier to pitch when you have that kind of lead to work with,” said Hodsdon. “I could throw at the zone and not have to throw around their players.”
As such was the case, Hodsdon went after NAIA Player of the Year candidate Beau Mills, who burned Hodsdon for his nation-leading 33rd home run, a solo monster shot to right field, and then came back with an RBI single in the fifth inning.
For the most part, though, Hodsdon was masterful at dancing out of trouble for his 6.2 innings of work, striking out 6 in the process.
“I’m not sure Scotty had his best stuff tonight,” said Svagdis, “but he competed. He did a nice job.”
The Cougars were in control throughout the entire night and every move Svagdis made was seemingly a winner. In the eighth inning he pinch-hit for Azusa Pacific’s all-time leading hitter Stephen Vogt, and Stephen Kohatsu came through with a 2-run home run to right field, his second of the season and his second in the super regional.
“One of the guys in the dugouts said that’s the last time I’ll ever get away with pinch hitting for a .490 hitter,” said a smiling Svagdis, “but we had to get Kohatsu an at-bat. We couldn’t use him as a DH tonight with Scott pitching, and he’s been swinging a great bat lately.”
The 11-run setback is the 14-time NAIA champion's largest margin of defeat since the University of Washington handed the Warriors a 15-3 loss in 2003, and the 27 runs scored are the most allowed in consecutive games by a Warrior pitching staff in over 10 years.
“We knew we could hit, but I never thought we’d scored 27 runs against a great pitching staff like this,” said Vogt. “This is as great a pitching that we’ve seen.”
“We’ve been talking all year that we’re one of the best hitting teams in the nation,” said Hodsdon. “I think we’ve proven it now.”
With the victory, Azusa Pacific forces a third and final game of the series, Friday night in Azusa. It’ll be the last game in Azusa for 4-year Cougars Vogt and Hodsdon.
“I realize that after tomorrow night, I’ll never play on this field again in a competitive manner,” said Vogt, “but what a great way to go out – No. 1 vs. No.2. Yeah, the No. 1 seed for the World Series will be on the line, but we’re still going to the ‘show’ and that’s more important. I love APU and it’s been great for me.”
With the victory, Azusa Pacific reaches the 50-victory plateau for the first time in program history, improving to 50-7 on the season while Lewis-Clark State falls to 52-5.