AZUSA, Calif. -- Junior left fielder Stephen Gillette lined the first pitch offered by The Master’s righthander Tim Woodward into center field, scoring freshman pinch-runner Carlos Maddox from second base in the bottom of the ninth for Azusa Pacific’s walk-off 6-5 victory over The Master’s Wednesday afternoon.
With the game tied at 5-5, sophomore first baseman Brice Cutspec drew a 1-out walk, and he was replaced at first base by Maddox, who advanced to second on a Graham Miller wild pitch. Senior designated hitter Stephen Kohatsu was hit by Miller’s 1-0 offering, putting runners on first and second with 1 out. The Master’s replaced the left-handed Miller with a freshman righty, Tim Woodward, whose first-pitch fastball was laced past the out-stretched glove of Mustangs shortstop Joseph Chavarria. Maddox scored easily for the Cougar victory, Azusa Pacific’s 15th straight GSAC win at home.
For the third straight game, the NAIA’s No. 2-ranked Cougars spotted their visitors a 2-run lead in the first inning. However, the first 4 Azusa Pacific batters reached base safely in the bottom of the first, with junior center fielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis doubling home senior shortstop Matt Venegas with a double off the base of the center field wall. Nieuwenhuis then scored on a groundout to even the game at 2-2.
The first 4 Cougars in the second inning also reached safely, and Venegas played the role of run-producer this time, smacking a bases-loaded single to right field to give Azusa Pacific a 3-2 lead with no outs. Nieuwenhuis’ grounder up the middle plated another run, but Mustangs starter Ranulfo Grijalvo struck out consecutive batters to escape the threat trailing by just a 4-2 margin.
Ben Ives’ third-inning solo home run trimmed the deficit to 4-3 for The Master’s, and the Mustangs capitalized on 2 Cougar errors in the fourth inning for 2 more runs to take a 5-4 lead. Azusa Pacific answered in the fifth with a single unearned run to even the game at 5-5. Gillette’s grounder to short was fielded cleanly by Chavarria, but the throw pulled the right foot of first baseman A.J. Morris slightly off the bag. Gillette’s hustle down the first base line put him through the bag before Morris’ foot settled back to first base after stretching to his left for the throw. Gillette stole second, advanced to third on a groundout and then scored on senior catcher Derrick Keeton’s single to right field.
The Cougars left runners on base in each of the first 5 innings until Grijalva got into a groove and retired 7 straight batters before plunking senior second baseman Galen Komo on his 98th pitch of the afternoon, an 0-2 fastball that ran a little too far inside. Miller retired the next 3 Cougars to keep the game tied at 5-5.
Junior reliever Garrett Lebsock struck out Ives after entering the game with runners on first and second with 2 outs in the top of the sixth inning. He set down the side in order in the seventh inning, then got out of trouble in the eighth by inducing an inning-ending double play grounder with runners on first and second to third baseman Ryan Dowell, who stepped on his bag and fired across the diamond. After retiring the first 2 Mustangs he faced in the ninth, Lebsock got out of the inning after surrendering a 2-out single when Pete Goeman became the Mustangs’ first stolen base victim after 4 successful swipes earlier in the game.
Lebsock tossed 3.1 innings of scoreless, 2-hit relief to pick up the victory, and Niewuenhuis and Keeton recorded 2 hits apiece to lead the Cougars’ 11-hit attack. Goeman and left fielder Steve Shaver collected 2 hits each, as well, for The Master’s.
With the win, Azusa Pacific improves to 8-1 overall, 2-1 in GSAC play, while the longest season-opening unbeaten streak in program history for The Master’s comes to an end, as the Mustangs drop to 8-1-1 overall, 2-1 GSAC. The Cougars host Concordia for a conference doubleheader at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 13, a rematch of last year’s NAIA Region II title game.