LA MIRADA, Calif. -- One great inning of offense helped redeem the NAIA’s No. 2-ranked Azusa Pacific from 24 other innings over the past 4 days in which it managed just 3 total runs. The Cougars stole the opening game of Saturday’s doubleheader at Biola with a 5-run rally in the ninth inning for a 7-4 win that salvaged a doubleheader split with the Eagles after Biola’s Game 2 starter Brian Albert tossed a complete-game 4-hitter in the nightcap for an 8-1 victory.
Junior designated hitter Stephen Gillette capped the comeback with a 2-out, 3-run home run off Charlie Gausepohl that broke a 4-4 tie.
Azusa Pacific, which suffered its first shutout defeat in 114 games on Wednesday in a 2-0 defeat at California Baptist, was held scoreless for the first 5 innings Saturday before junior center fielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis doubled in a run in the top of the sixth to cut the Eagles’ lead to 4-1.
Nieuwenhuis then came around to score on a 2-out error in the eighth inning to cut the lead to 4-2 before the Cougars’ 5-run ninth, which started with back-to-back base hits from senior second baseman Galen Komo and senior shortstop Matt Venegas. Senior catcher Stephen Kohatsu was hit by pitch to load the bases with 1 out, and sophomore first baseman Brice Cutspec tied the game with 1 swing of the bat off southpaw reliever Justin Rodriguez’s second pitch, driving in Komo and Venegas with a 2-run single up the middle that tied the game at 4-4. Rodriguez struck out Nieuwenhuis looking on a 3-2 pitch for the second out before the righty Gausepohl replaced him to face the right-handed Gillette.
Sophomore reliever Scott Sakoda retired all 5 batters he faced over the final inning and two-thirds to earn the victory. Senior lefty Zach Pettikas threw 3.1 innings of 2-hit shutout ball in relief to keep the Cougars within striking distance.
Brian Albert fired a 1-run, 4-hit gem in the 7-inning nightcap, picking up 8 of his 9 strikeouts in the first 6 scoreless innings before the Cougars manufactured a lone run in the seventh to avoid their second shutout defeat in 3 games. Kohatsu led off the seventh with a single through the left side, and a wild pitch moved courtesy runner Shaun Lane to second. A pair of groundouts brought Lane home and put Azusa Pacific on the scoreboard.
Venegas and junior third baseman Ryan Dowell were the only Cougars with hits in both games, and Cutspec’s 4-for-5 effort in the opening game left him with the team-high in hits on the day.
For the second straight Saturday, every other GSAC doubleheader resulted in a split, so Azusa Pacific’s split with Biola did not affect the Cougars’ first-place margin over Fresno Pacific, which split a home doubleheader with San Diego Christian this afternoon. Azusa Pacific is now 21-5 overall, 12-4 GSAC, while Biola is now 15-8 overall, 10-7 GSAC.
The conference schedule gives Azusa Pacific 12 days until its next GSAC contest, a March 27 home date with California Baptist. The Cougars will visit Dixie State (Utah), for single games on Monday and Tuesday, March 17-18, before another non-conference road trip to face Cal State San Marcos on Friday, March 21.