AZUSA, Calif. -- Fresno Pacific announced its status as a legitimate contender for the Golden State Athletic Conference title, stealing a page from Azusa Pacific’s book by exploding for 5 runs in the first inning before the GSAC’s leading offense could even step to the plate. The Sunbirds added 4 more in the second inning and built up a 13-0 lead before finishing off a 15-7 victory that pulled the No. 14-ranked Sunbirds to within 2 games of the conference lead.
Fresno Pacific chased Cougar starter Matt Stone from the game after taking a 4-0 lead on Anthony Lowell’s 2-out triple with just 1 out in the top of the first inning, and Joey Norwood’s RBI single down the right-field line made it 5-0 in the first. The Sunbirds tacked on 4 more in the second inning, including Justin Keeney’s 3-run home run over the right-field fence. Keeney homered again in the fourth inning, this time a solo shot to left that pushed the Fresno Pacific lead into double digits at 10-0, and the Sunbirds added 2 more in the fifth and a single run in the fifth to take a 13-0 lead heading into the bottom of the sixth.
Only then did Azusa Pacific’s offense begin clicking into gear after 9 straight Cougars were retired from the third through fifth innings by Sunbirds freshman starter Aaron Lynn. Senior second baseman Galen Komo led off the inning with an infield single, and junior centerfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis cashed in, driving Lynn’s 3-1 pitch over the left-field fence for a 2-run home run. Despite loading the bases on a pair of Fresno Pacific errors and sophomore first baseman Brice Cutspec’s single to center, the Cougars managed just 1 more run in the inning on a third Sunbird error before senior side-armer David Zizzo ended the frame with a strikeout and a groundout to preserve his team’s 13-3 lead.
Junior leftfielder Stephen Gillette’s seventh-inning sacrifice fly pulled the Cougars to within13-4, but Fresno Pacific answered with 2 more in the ninth before a final Azusa Pacific rally in the bottom of the ninth. Cutspec’s 1-out double with runners on first and second scored Nieuwenhuis from second base, and Gillette hit a 2-run single to center to cut the margin to 15-7 before Jon Steele retired the final 2 Cougars on a flyout and strikeout to seal the Sunbird victory.
Keeney led Fresno Pacific’s 18-hit attack with a 3-for-6 effort that included his 2 home runs for 5 RBIs, and Lowell and Norwood each had 3 hits apiece for the Sunbirds, as well. Lynn, who entered the game with just 13.1 collegiate innings in 6 appearances so far this season, picked up the win to improve to 3-1 on the year with his 5-plus innings of work. Lynn scattered 3 hits over the first 5 innings, striking out 2 with no walks, before surrendering 3 runs on 3 hits in the bottom of the sixth.
Nieuwenhuis had 3 of Azusa Pacific’s 7 hits over the final 4 innings of action, finishing the day 4-for-5 with a double and a home run, his seventh of the season. Cutspec was 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles.
With the loss, Azusa Pacific sees its 25-game conference home winning streak snapped as it drops to 32-6 overall, 20-5 in GSAC play. Fresno Pacific improves to 26-9 overall, 18-7 GSAC. The teams square off again Thursday at 3 p.m. in Azusa.