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Leadoff Man Cleans Up

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February 6, 2008
Joe Reinsch
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AZUSA, Calif. -- If senior shortstop Matt Venegas weren’t so effective as Azusa Pacific’s leadoff hitter, he might thrive in a slugger’s role. Venegas hit his team-leading second home run of the season, a 2-run shot to right that lifted the NAIA’s No. 2-ranked Cougars back into the lead for good in a 5-3 win over Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Wednesday night.

Venegas, who set the tone for Azusa Pacific’s 2008 campaign with a solo home run on the second pitch the team faced of the season, drilled Max Rose’s first offering over the right field fence in nearly the exact same spot. Senior second baseman Galen Komo drew a leadoff walk in the fifth after the Cougars gave up the lead in the Stags’ 3-run fifth, but Venegas’ shot put the lead and the momentum back into Azusa Pacific’s favor.

Senior catcher Stephen Kohatsu, who just drove in 5 runs in yesterday’s 9-1 win at Cal State L.A., capitalized on a 2-out rally in the bottom of the third inning. Senior designated hitter Grant Beyer was hit by pitch, and junior first baseman Kirk Nieuwenhuis doubled to put runners on second and third with 2 outs for Kohatsu, who picked up another pair of 2-out RBIs with a double that dropped in fair territory down the left field line to give the Cougars a 2-0 lead.

Claremont-Mudd-Scripps scored all 3 of its runs in the top of the fifth, despite hitting the ball out of the infield just once in the frame. Max Moyer led off the inning with a mishandled infield line drive, and Anthony Bouvier’s infield single down the third base line set up Matt Roethlisberger’s RBI double to left center. David Spiller’s grounder to short scored Moyer to tie the game at 2-2, and Roethlisberger’s slide into third separated the ball from the third baseman’s glove, giving the Stags runners at first and third with no outs. Azusa Pacific righthander Aaron Lenz induced a double-play ball that plated Roethlisberger, then retired Alex Weber-Shapiro to get out of the inning with just a 1-run deficit at 3-2.

Venegas’ 2-run home run in the fifth gave Azusa Pacific the 4-3 lead, and the Cougars added an insurance run in the bottom of the sixth. Junior centerfielder Drew Evans drew a 1-out walk, advanced to second and third on wild pitches and then scored when the catcher’s throw to third on the second wild pitch skipped past the bag into the outfield.

Cougar starter Matt Stone allowed just 2 hits while striking out 3 in 4 innings, and sophomore righthander Scott Sakoda was credited with the win after firing 2 near-perfect innings in the seventh and eighth innings. Sakoda struck out 4 of the 8 batters he faced and gave up 1 hit. Junior Ben Jones picked up his second save of the season when Nieuwenhuis snagged pinch-hitter Alex Bonnett’s liner towards right field and tagged out the baserunner in one motion for the game-ending double play.

Nieuwenhuis, Kohatsu and junior leftfielder Stephen Gillette each finished with 2 hits for the Cougars, while Tim Ednoff went 2-for-3 for Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, who managed just 5 hits on the evening.

With the win, Azusa Pacific improves to 4-0 on the season, while Claremont-Mudd-Scripps drops to 0-1-1. The Cougars kick off their Golden State Athletic Conference title defense when they visit Point Loma Nazarene in San Diego Saturday for a conference doubleheader beginning at 11 a.m.