ST. GEORGE, Utah -- A 7-run fifth inning keyed another offensive explosion for the NAIA’s No. 2-ranked Azusa Pacific, which put together 17 hits and took advantage of 6 Dixie State (Utah) errors for a 22-14 win that completed a non-conference road sweep after Monday’s 16-8 win.
Sophomore first baseman Brice Cutspecand junior right fielder Drew Evans smacked 3-run home run in back-to-back innings, accounting for over half of the Cougars’ 11 runs between the 2 frames. The outburst turned a 5-4 Azusa Pacific lead heading into the fourth inning into a 16-5 margin as Dixie State came to bat in the bottom of the fifth.
In addition, Azusa Pacific tallied 4 runs in the first inning to improve its record to 15-0 when scoring in its opening at-bat of the game. The Rebels put 3 of the first 5 Cougars on base with miscues, and Evans capped the opening-inning scoring with an RBI double to right field that scored senior designated hitter Stephen Kohatsu for the early 4-0 lead. Dixie State answered with 3 runs in the bottom of the first on Mark Rose’s 3-run home run, his first of 2 in the game.
Junior center fielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis drove in the Cougars’ first earned run of the game with a 1-out RBI single up the middle that scored senior shortstop Matt Venegas from second base in the top of the second. Rose’s third-inning sacrifice fly in the third inning brought the Rebels back to within a run at 5-4 heading into the fourth inning.
Junior third baseman Ryan Dowell led off the top of the fourth inning with a single up the middle, then stole second. Another Dixie State fielding error was followed by senior catcher Derrick Keeton’s RBI single through the right side, and Cutspec homered to left center to clear the bases just 2 batters later to give the Cougars a 9-4 lead.
In the fifth inning, 3 straight Cougars opened the inning with base hits, with Venegas’ single through the left side driving in senior second baseman Galen Komo for the first of 7 runs in the inning. Keeton hit into a fielder’s choice to first base, but the double play opportunity was squandered after the force with an error on the turn back to first. Dowell scored from second on the play, and Keeton moved to second and scored on Nieuwenhuis’ RBI double to left that gave Azusa Pacific a 12-5 lead.
Cutspec popped up for the second out, but Kohatsu was hit by pitch and junior left fielder Stephen Gillette followed that with an RBI single that scored Nieuwenhuis. Evans deposited the full-count offering over the left-center field fence for a 3-run shot that pushed the lead to 16-5 at the game’s halfway point of 4-and-a-half innings.
Seven Azusa Pacific hitters had 2 or more hits, with Nieuwenhuis registering a team- and season-high 4 hits with 2 doubles, 4 runs and 4 RBIs. Evans and Dowell both went 3-for-4, and there were 4 more Cougars with 2 hits apiece. Junior righthander Matt Stone relieved starter Garrett Hodges after the Rebels’ 3-run first inning, and he scattered 2 runs on 5 hits over his first 5 innings of work before surrendering back-to-back home runs to Kyle Pratt and Rose to lead off a 3-run Dixie State seventh inning. Stone finished the frame for the 6-inning victory in relief.
With the win, Azusa Pacific improves to 23-5 on the season, while Dixie State drops to 11-12. The Cougars continue non-conference action when they visit Cal State San Marcos on Friday, March 21 for a 1 p.m. contest.