AZUSA, Calif. -- Azusa Pacific spent the first 8 innings piling up 10 runs on 13 hits, taking a 10-4 lead into the ninth inning. The NAIA’s No. 2-ranked Cougars spent the next 3 outs simply trying to survive a furious rally from Dixie State (Utah), which rallied for 5 runs with no outs before junior Ben Jones got a pair of groundballs for a fielder’s choice and a game-ending double play to seal the 10-9 victory Tuesday afternoon.
The win gave Azusa Pacific its 37th 20-win season in the program’s 43-year history, and it tied the record for reaching the 20-win mark in a record-time of 23 games. Last year’s squad went 20-3 to start a campaign in which it returned to the NAIA World Series for the first time in 23 years, and the 1993 and 2001 squads also reached 20 wins in their respective 23rd game of those campaigns.
After Aaron Friend, the Rebels’ ninth-inning leadoff man, reached on a hit-batsman, the Rebels slapped together 5 straight hits. All were singles, except for Mark Rose’s 3-run home run to right-center field that pulled Dixie State to within 10-9. Blake Mickelson kept the rally going with a single to center field that fell just short of a diving Kirk Nieuwenhuis, but he was forced out on a grounder to shortstop Matt Venegas, who flipped it to second for the first out of the inning. Cougar third baseman Ryan Dowell turned a double play, Azusa Pacific’s fourth of the game, to extinguish the rally.
After scoring single runs in the third and fourth innings, Dixie State threatened again in the fifth with back-to-back base hits that put runners on second and third with no outs. Kyle Pratt flied out to shallow right, but Brett Adams got hung up between second and third base trying to advance. Sophomore first baseman Brice Cutspec cut off the throw from right fielder Drew Evans and fired to Venegas, at which point Klint Anderson took off for home from third base. Venegas fired home to gun down Anderson for the double play. Azusa Pacific appealed to second base following the play, and Adams was ruled to have left second base early, resulting in a third out on the fly out.
Venegas was 1 of 5 Cougars with 2 hits in the contest, and he drove in 4 of the 10 runs. His sixth-inning home run drove in 2 runs to spark a 4-run inning that pushed the lead to 9-2 at the time. He drove in single runs with a second-inning single and a fourth-inning groundout.
Senior catcher Stephen Kohatsu added a pair of hits to the Cougars’ 13-hit attack, including a 1-out solo home run down the left-field line in the bottom of the third inning.
With the win, Azusa Pacific improves to 20-3 overall, while Dixie State drops to 11-10. The Cougars return to GSAC play Wednesday afternoon for a 2:30 p.m. visit to California Baptist.