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Cougars Split Conference Opener

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February 9, 2008
Joe Reinsch
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SAN DIEGO, Calif. -- Senior catcher Stephen Kohatsu’s 2-out, 2-run first-inning home run provided the NAIA’s No. 2-ranked Azusa Pacific with the spark it needed to salvage a split in the Cougars’ Golden State Athletic Conference-opening doubleheader Saturday afternoon. After allowing 15 Sea Lions hits in the opener in an 8-2 defeat, Kohatsu led a 14-hit effort in the 6-4 victory that secured the valuable road split.

Kohatsu added a pair of singles in a 3-for-4 performance in the 7-inning nightcap, and sophomore first baseman Brice Cutspec’s sixth-inning 2-run single provided the final margin of victory. The Cougars left 2 runners on base in 5 of the 7 innings of the second game, stranding a total of 12 runners in the game.

Point Loma Nazarene third baseman Andy Reilly cut the lead to 2-1 with a solo shot to left in the bottom of the second, but Kohatsu led off the third with a single that helped load the bases with 1 out. Junior outfielder Chris Cooper was hit by pitch to score 1, but the Sea Lions turned Ryan Dowell’s liner to first into an inning-ending double play to get out of trouble with a 3-1 deficit.

The Cougars added to their lead with a 3-run sixth. Senior shortstop Matt Venegas led off the inning with a double to left, junior first baseman Kirk Nieuwenhuis was intentionally walked and Kohatsu singled through the left side to load the bases with 1 out. A wild pitch brought Venegas home for a 4-1 lead and moved the runners up a base for Cutspec’s base hit up the middle that scored 2 runs to give Azusa Pacific a 6-1 lead.

The Sea Lions rallied for 3 runs off Cougar starter Jonny Bravo in the bottom of the sixth, all with 2 outs. Tyler Kuehl and Reilly hit back-to-back doubles, and Ian MacMaster singled through the right side to score Reilly and cut the lead to 6-3. MacMaster moved into scoring position on a wild pitch, then scored on Jesse Gill’s single to right center before Bravo induced an inning-ending groundout to short to head into the final frame with a 6-4 lead.

Junior righthander Ben Jones didn’t allow the ball out of the infield in a 3-up, 3-down seventh to pick up his third save of the season.

Junior righthander Garrett Hodges, who threw 5 hitless innings to start Azusa Pacific’s season-opening 5-1 win over Patten in his first start of the season, tossed another 5 shutout innings and led 1-0 heading into the sixth inning of the first game. The Sea Lions rallied for 3 runs in the sixth, taking the lead on MacMaster’s 2-run home run to right that gave Point Loma Nazarene a 3-1 lead. Reilly’s 2-our RBI double in the seventh pushed the lead to 4-1, but Nieuwenhuis cut the lead to 4-2 in the eighth with a 1-out RBI single that scored Venegas.

However, 5 straight Sea Lions batters singled to open the eighth, and another hit and sacrifice fly gave Point Loma Nazarene a 4-run inning that pushed the lead to 8-2.

Nieuwenhuis recorded 3 of the Cougars’ 8 hits in the game, and Kohatsu was 2-for-4, as well. On the day, Kohatsu was 5-for-8, while Nieuwenhuis batted 4-for-7 with a pair of walks and 3 runs.

With the split, Azusa Pacific’s record now stands at 5-1, while Point Loma Nazarene is 6-3. Both open GSAC play with a 1-1 conference mark. The Cougars return home for a pair of non-conference games Monday and Tuesday against Whittier and Cal State L.A. before resuming GSAC play with Wednesday’s 2 p.m. matchup with The Master’s.