AZUSA, Calif. -- Nine months ago, Azusa Pacific clinched its first NAIA World Series trip in 23 years with a 2-game sweep over Concordia in the championship round of the 2007 NAIA Region II playoffs, and the NAIA’s No. 2-ranked Cougars did it again Saturday with a pair of come-from-behind victories, posting a 14-7 win in the opening game before holding off the Eagles, 7-6, in a wild back-and-forth affair in the nightcap.
The first game was deadlocked at 2-2 heading into the sixth inning, a pivotal frame for junior starter Garrett Hodges, who had yet to complete 6 innings in either of his first 2 starts of the season. With a man aboard, Hodges struck out Cody Kissell to keep the game tied heading into the bottom half of the inning, where the Cougars scored 7 runs, all with 2 outs.
A bases-loaded wild pitch from Concordia reliever Jeff Allen scored Carlos Maddox from third, and senior designated hitter Stephen Kohatsu and sophomore first baseman Brice Cutspec each pulled back-to-back RBI singles to push the lead to 5-2. Junior left fielder Stephen Gillette drew a walk to load the bases once again, and junior right fielder Drew Evans smashed a Ryan Torrey fastball over the right field wall for a back-breaking grand slam that gave the Cougars a commanding 9-2 edge.
Junior center fielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis hit a 2-run home run in the bottom of the seventh to give Azusa Pacific an 11-2 lead, and Cutspec hit a towering home run down the right-field line to start a 3-run eighth that gave the Cougars their final 14-run tally. Concordia rallied for 4 runs in the ninth inning to cut the final margin to 14-7.
Hodges struck out 6 in a 6-inning outing to earn the victory, and 6 different players recorded multi-hit games as the Cougar offense put together a season-high 19 hits in the opener. Nieuwenhuis and Cutspec led the way with 3-for-4 efforts that included each’s second home run of the season.
In the second game, the teams lit up the scoreboard in 8 of the first 11 team at-bats of the game, with the lead changing hands 3 times in the 7-inning nightcap in what had been anticipated to be a pitcher’s duel between 2 of the GSAC’s top returning starters in All-GSAC southpaws Jonny Bravo and Enrique Lechuga.
Bravo surrendered a first-inning 2-run home run to Cody Kissell, then gave up back-to-back solo shots to Cameron Bayne and Dante Beltramo in the fourth inning that erased the Cougars’ 4-3 lead.
Lechuga, the 2007 GSAC Pitcher of the Year, promptly lost the lead just 2 pitches into the bottom of the fourth inning when senior second baseman Galen Komo blasted his second collegiate home run, the first of his Azusa Pacific career, over the left field fence to tie the game at 5-5. Then, in the top of the fifth, Cutspec popped up Lechuga’s 3-2 offering down the right field line, and the fly ball managed to drift just beyond the right field fence to give the Cougars a 6-5 lead and knock Lechuga out of the game. Azusa Pacific added a valuable insurance run when Concordia reliever Cameron Bayne walked the bases loaded and then issued a 4-pitch walk to junior right fielder Chris Cooper to push the lead to 7-5.
Aric Weinberg homered to left to lead off the sixth inning for Concordia, but Nieuwenhuis came on in relief to strike out 4 batters for the 2-inning save.
After trailing 2-0 to start the game, Evans’ second-inning RBI double down the right-field line cut the lead to 2-1, and the Cougars put together a 3-run, 2-out rally in the third inning to take a 4-3 lead. Evans drew a bases-loaded walk from Lechuga, and Gillette followed by ripping a 2-run single to center field.
Evans finished the second game 2-for-3 with 2 RBIs, and Gillette reached base in all 4 of his plate appearances, drawing 2 walks, a hit-by-pitch to go with his 2-out base hit. On the day, Evans, Nieuwenhuis and Cutspec were each 4-for-8, and Evans drove in a team-high 6 of Azusa Pacific’s 21 runs in the twinbill.
With the win, Azusa Pacific improves to 10-1 overall on the season and moves into a 3-way tie for first place in the GSAC at 4-1, while Concordia drops to 3-4 overall, 2-3 GSAC. The doubleheader sweep gave Cougar head coach Paul Svagdis his 100th career GSAC victory in his sixth season at Azusa Pacific.
The Cougars, who have played 7 games in the past 8 days, return to action on Thursday, Feb. 21, for a visit to The Master’s, then return home to host San Diego Christian in a GSAC doubleheader next Saturday, Feb. 23, at 11 a.m.