AZUSA, Calif. -- Eight consecutive Azusa Pacific batters reached base safely to spark a 7-run eighth inning that helped the NAIA’s No. 2-ranked Cougars seal an 11-3 win over Whittier Monday night in nonconference action.
After a fly out to start the inning, senior shortstop Matt Venegas got things going with a slow roller to the shortstop for an infield hit. Junior right fielder Chris Cooper hit a tough 2-hopper down the third base line for another infield single, and junior Kirk Nieuwenhuis’ single to left center scored Venegas to give the Cougars a 5-3 lead. Senior catcher Stephen Kohatsu followed with another infield hit, this time a grounder deep in the hole on the left side that left Whittier shortstop Ryan Martin no play and loaded the bases.
The runners all moved up a base on a wild pitch, and senior first baseman Grant Beyer drew a walk to load the bases again. Junior left fielder Stephen Gillette hammered the first pitch he saw off the wall in right center for a 2-run double, and junior center fielder Drew Evans singled to center to push the lead to 9-3. After the inning’s second wild pitch plated yet another run, senior second baseman Galen Komo singled to left for Azusa Pacific’s seventh hit of the inning. Junior third baseman Ryan Dowell drilled a line drive to center for a sacrifice fly to score Evans from third and wrap up the scoring.
The Cougars sent 11 batters to the plate in the frame, cashing 7 hits into 7 runs after leaving 10 runners on base through the game’s first 7 innings. Six different players recorded multiple hits in Azusa Pacific’s 18-hit barrage. Venegas led the way, going 4-for-6, while Cutspec and Gillette collected 3 hits apiece. Evans, Kohatsu and Cooper each went 2-for-4, with Kohatsu scoring a team-high 3 runs.
Whittier struck first, taking an early 2-0 lead in its opening at-bat on Charles Acker’s 1-out, 2-run home run over the right field fence. Azusa Pacific got runners on second and third to start the bottom of the first, but Poets starter Blake Luitwieler left them stranded there with 3 swinging strikeouts to escape the jam.
However, Venegas led off the bottom of the third with his third home run of the season, a line drive over the right-field fence. Sophomore designated hitter Brice Cutspec evened the game at 2-2 with his first base hit of a 3-for-3 effort, a run-scoring single to right field. Gillette’s 1-out double to left center plated the go-ahead run before Whittier reliever Kevin Pigott stranded 2 more Cougars to keep the score at 3-2.
The Poets tied the game at 3-3 with a run-scoring single in the fifth, but Evans drove in the go-ahead run with a 1-out bases-loaded single to left before Justin Armijo, the fourth of 7 Whittier pitchers used, retired back-to-back Cougars on shallow line outs to Acker in center field.
Nieuwenhuis tossed 2 perfect innings, retiring all 6 batters he faced after entering with a 4-3 lead in the top of the eighth, to pick up his first save in his first appearance on the mound this season. He struck out 3 straight batters at one point and did not allow a ball out of the infield in the 2-inning appearance. Sophomore righthander Aaron Lenz was also effective in a 2-and-a-third inning relief appearance, surrendering just 2 hits and striking out 1 to earn the victory.
Mike Benavente was the only Whittier batter with multiple hits, going 2-for-3 and scoring the tying run in the fifth on Martin’s fifth-inning single. Of the 7 Poet pitchers, none of whom pitched more than 2 innings or faced over 11 batters, only Justin Armijo and Martin Bueno were not charged with runs, although all 7 surrendered at least 1 hit.
With the win, Azusa Pacific improves to 6-1 heading into another non-conference matchup with Cal State L.A. tomorrow afternoon at 2 p.m. in Azusa. Whittier drops to 0-4 to start the season.