AZUSA, Calif. -- Senior shortstop Matt Venegas led off a game with a home run for the third time this season, and 2 other Cougars led off later innings with solo shots to help lift the NAIA’s No. 2-ranked Azusa Pacific to a 5-2 non-conference victory over La Verne Tuesday evening.
Venegas, who led off the Cougars’ opening at-bat of the season with a home run in the season-opening win over Patten, also opened up last week’s visit to The Master’s with a solo shot, although it does not yet factor into the season statistics. Officially, the game is considered suspended due to darkness, with Azusa Pacific leading 22-9 with 2 outs in the top of the ninth inning. Statistics from that contest are not counted until the game is officially completed when the teams next square off on April 2.
After Venegas evened the game at 1-1 with his first-inning blast over the left-field fence, sophomore Brice Cutspec led off the second-inning with an opposite-field shot to left that gave the Cougars a 2-1 lead. Venegas also led off the third with another extra-base hit, this time jumping on the first pitch from La Verne starter Rich Johnson for a double off the left-field wall. He scored on junior center fielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis’ RBI single between third base and shortstop to give the Cougars a 3-1 lead.
Junior third baseman Ryan Dowell knocked a 1-out RBI double into the right field gap to push the lead to 4-1 in the bottom of the sixth. The Leopards cut the lead to 4-2 on a bases-loaded walk, but the Cougars got out of the inning and senior second baseman Galen Komo led off the bottom of the eighth with another home run to left to give Azusa Pacific a 3-run cushion at 5-2.
La Verne left 11 runners on base in the game, with the Cougars stranding at least 1 Leopard in 7 of the first 8 innings. Senior starter Andrew Shive forced in a run in the first inning with a bases-loaded hit-batsman, but struck out Dimitre Mondotte to get out of the bases-loaded jam. Kent Longnecker led off the second inning with an infield single and worked his way around to third base with 2 outs, but Shive induced an inning-ending groundout to preserve the 1-1 tie.
La Verne put its first 2 runners on base in the top half of an adventurous eighth inning. Junior righthander Matt Stone’s throwing error put Scott Marcus on base and Jon-Michael Hattabaugh’s single through the left side gave the Leopards runners on first and second with no outs. Stone struck out a batter for the first out, issued a walk to load the bases and induced a popup to first base for the second out. After pinch-hitter Jason Munoz drew the bases-loaded walk after falling behind in the count, 0-2, cutting the Cougar lead to 4-2.
Sophomore righthander Scott Sakoda relieved Stone, and he induced an inning-ending groundout to strand another 3 Leopards and escape the Cougars’ second bases-loaded jam of the game. Sakoda struck out 2 of the 3 batters he faced as he retired the Leopards in order in the ninth to pick up his first career save.
Venegas’ 2-for-4 effort was the Cougars’ only multi-hit performance, and senior Zach Pettikas tossed 4 innings of scoreless 1-hit relief. Hattabaugh finished the game 3-for-4 for La Verne.
With the win, Azusa Pacific improves to 13-1 on the season, while La Verne drops to 6-4-1. The Cougars are back in GSAC action on Wednesday, Feb. 27, with a 2 p.m. visit to Fresno Pacific.