AZUSA, Calif. -- Don’t be fooled by the final scores from Azusa Pacific’s 18-8, 13-3 doubleheader road sweep over Concordia, or the 3-game lead the Cougars currently enjoy atop the Golden State Athletic Conference standings. Neither tells the complete story of 2 games that could have gone either way or the razor-thin margin that may have resulted with a slightly different turn of events Saturday in what may arguably be the NAIA’s deepest baseball conference.
Concordia left-hander Enrique Lechuga was 1 out away from his seventh inning of 2-hit shutout ball against the GSAC’s top offense in Azusa Pacific, and the Eagles led 4-0 in the first game. However, senior shortstop Matt Venegas and junior third baseman Ryan Dowell spoiled Lechuga’s masterpiece, tying the game on back-to-back 2-out doubles in the top of the seventh. Venegas cleared the bases with a 3-run double, and Dowell brought Venegas home with the tying run, knocking Lechuga, who at 1 point had faced 13 consecutive Cougar batters without surrendering a hit, out of the game with a 4-4 tie.
That was just the beginning, as junior centerfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis drove in Dowell 2 batters later for Azusa Pacific’s first lead of the game, and junior leftfielder Stephen Gillette added another bases-loaded double that scored all 3 baserunners for an 8-run inning and an 8-4 lead. The Cougars were not yet out of danger, however, with Matt Ross tying the game at 8-8 on a 3-run blast with 2 outs in the bottom of the seventh inning.
Azusa Pacific responded with 8 more runs, all with 2 outs in the top of the eighth inning, to double up the Eagles. After back-to-back flyouts to lead off the inning, 9 straight Cougars reached base safely, with sophomore Chris Feicht capping the 8-run rally with another bases-loaded double that pushed the lead to 16-8. Sophomore first baseman Brice Cutspec hit a 2-run single in the top of the ninth inning to round out the scoring in the 18-8 win.
In the third inning of the nightcap, Azusa Pacific strung together 5 consecutive base-hits to take a 3-1 lead, with Nieuwenhuis and Kohatsu driving in a run each with back-to-back singles before Cutspec’s RBI double plated Nieuwenhuis for the third score of the frame. In the bottom of the inning, Cougar starter Andrew Shive surrendered back-to-back base hits to lead off the inning, including Nick Fuentes’ RBI double that pulled Concordia to within 3-2. However, the 6-foot-5 righthander worked his way out of the jam, striking out Cody Kissell for the first out before putting Eagles slugger Matt Ross onto the open base at first. Shive then induced an infield popup and a flyout to left to escape with no further damage.
The Cougars led off the fourth with 3 straight base-hits, sparking a 5-run inning in which Concordia committed 3 errors to aid the Azusa Pacific cause. When the dust had settled, the Cougars had taken an 8-3 lead after 4 innings, and after a scoreless fifth, Azusa Pacific tacked on another 5-run inning in the sixth. Senior second baseman Galen Komo was hit by pitch to lead off the inning, and Kohatsu walked with 1 out to put runners on first and second. Cutspec’s deep fly to center field advanced the runners to second and third, and Gillette brought them both in with a 2-run single that gave the Cougars a 10-2 lead. Each of the next 3 batters recorded base hits, with junior rightfielder Drew Evans and Dowell capping the frame with back-to-back RBI doubles that gave Azusa Pacific a 13-2 lead.
Five Cougars in each game had multiple hits, with Venegas leading the way at the top of the lineup with 5 hits on the day. Cutspec and Dowell had 2 hits apiece in each game to lead Azusa Pacific to its largest doubleheader scoring output of the season, a 31-run outburst over the final 10 innings of the day’s action.
With the sweep, Azusa Pacific maintains its 3-game advantage over second-place Fresno Pacific, which swept Vanguard in a home doubleheader. The Cougars improve to 32-5 overall, 20-4 GSAC, while Concordia drops into a 3-way tie for fifth place with Point Loma Nazarene and The Master’s at 12-12 in conference. The Eagles are now 14-14 overall.
Azusa Pacific returns to action with a pair of home games against Fresno Pacific this week. The Cougars host the Sunbirds on Wednesday, April 9, at 6 p.m., followed by a 3 p.m. matchup Thursday, April 10.