RANCHO CUCAMONGA, Calif. -- Despite a rough start, the NAIA’s No. 4-ranked Azusa Pacific settled down and gave the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes a competitive ballgame in a 6-3 defeat in a 9-inning exhibition contest Tuesday night at The Epicenter.
Junior centerfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis went 3-for-4 with a stolen base to lead the Cougars, and senior catcher Derrick Keeton was 2-for-3 with a leadoff single in the fifth inning to spark a 2-run rally that tied the game at 2-2 with the Quakes, the Class A California League affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
Azusa Pacific, which has the NAIA’s second-highest fielding percentage (.970), committed 3 errors in the game, including 1 each in the second and third innings that both resulted in close plays by aggressive Quakes baserunners. Drew Toussaint led off the second with a grounder to third base, but junior third baseman Ryan Dowell’s throw pulled sophomore first baseman Brice Cutspec off the bag. Cutspec’s errant toss back to the pitcher rolled into foul territory along the third-base line, but Toussaint was late in breaking for second, and senior shortstop Matt Venegas was able to retrieve it and throw Toussaint out at second base on the play.
However, the Quakes took advantage of the next miscue, breaking the scoreless tie in the third on a play that started with Cliff Remole’s infield single deep in the hole to Venegas. Anderson Rosario, who broke from second base on Remole’s grounder, rounded third base as Venegas made the diving stop without any chance of beating Remole at first. Instead, Venegas fired to third base to catch a retreating Rosario, but his throw was mishandled, and Rosario broke home once more. Dowell’s throw to the plate beat the runner, but Rosario was able to slide under Keeton’s tag to score the game’s first run.
Freshman Don Williams, one of 9 Cougar pitchers in the contest, nearly worked himself out of a bases-loaded jam with no outs in the fourth inning, but a double-play grounder up the middle plated another run to give the Quakes a 2-0 lead.
Keeton led off the top of the fifth with an infield single up the middle, and junior third baseman Ryan Dowell reached on another grounder to second that was mishandled by Quakes second baseman Wil Ortiz. Venegas walked to load the bases with no outs, and senior second baseman Galen Komo beat out a potential double-play ball to second base to drive in Keeton on a fielder’s choice that forced Venegas out at second. With runners at first and third, senior designated hitter Stephen Kohatsu brought pinch-runner Shaun Lane in from third to tie the game at 2-2 with a sacrifice fly to center field.
In the bottom of the fifth, junior Scott Thur faced another bases-loaded jam with no outs, but the righthander struck out back-to-back batters, Drew Toussaint and Brian Walker, before escaping the jam by handling a 1-hopper back up the middle off the bat of Jordan Renz for the easy toss to first base.
Rancho Cucamonga added a pair of runs in the sixth inning, and the Cougars were inches away from tying it again in the top of the seventh. With 1 out and the bases loaded, Quakes leftfielder Cliff Remole snagged Kohatsu’s sinking line drive to shallow left field with a diving catch and popped up to double up the Cougar baserunner at second. Had the catch not been made, it likely would have been a 2-run base hit for Kohatsu that would have tied the game at 4-4.
Instead, the Quakes maintained the lead and added 2 more on a potential double-play ball to sophomore first baseman Chris Feicht. With the bases loaded with no outs, Feicht fielded a grounder and tossed it to second base for the force out, but Venegas’ throw back to first skipped past freshman pitcher Virgil Chavira to allow a second run to score on the play.
Nieuwenhuis singled to right-center field in the top of the eighth inning, then scored on junior leftfielder Chris Cooper’s double down the left-field line to pull Azusa Pacific to within the final 6-3 margin.
The Cougars return to Golden State Athletic Conference action Wednesday in Santa Clarita, where they will complete a suspended game with The Master’s College prior to the teams’ regularly-scheduled conference matchup. The suspended game will resume at 2:30 p.m., with Azusa Pacific leading 22-9 with 2 outs in the top of the ninth inning. The regularly-scheduled game will begin shortly following the completion of the suspended game.