LAKESIDE, Calif. -- The NAIA’s No. 4-ranked Azusa Pacific wasted no time getting a valuable doubleheader split on the road Saturday at San Diego Christian, winning the opener, 12-4, before dropping the nightcap by an 8-5 margin. Second-place Fresno Pacific split at home with Concordia, keeping the Cougars’ GSAC lead stable at 1 game over the Sunbirds.
Senior shortstop Matt Venegas led off the first game with a double to center field, and he scored the game’s first run on junior centerfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis’ 1-out double down the left-field line. The 1-0 lead held up over the next 2 innings before the Cougars sent 14 batters to the plate in an 8-run third inning that pushed the lead to 9-0.
Nieuwenhuis drew a pair of walks in the inning, leading off the inning with a base on balls that started the extended rally. He stole second, took third on a balk and then scored on senior designated hitter Stephen Kohatsu’s single down the right-field line, 1 of just 4 Cougar hits in the inning. With runners on second and third after junior leftfielder Stephen Gillette’s double to left, senior catcher Derrick Keeton was hit by pitch to load the bases. Junior third baseman Ryan Dowell was hit by Hawks starter Garrett Lingle’s 2-1 pitch to give the Cougars a 3-0 lead, and Lingle walked the next 2 batters to bring in another run before leaving the game with a 5-0 deficit.
San Diego Christian reliever Jesus Nevarez didn’t fare much better than Lingle, walking Nieuwenhuis for the second time in the inning before surrendering back-to-back run-scoring singles to Kohatsu and sophomore first baseman Brice Cutspec to push Azusa Pacific’s advantage to 9-0. Nevarez was replaced by Donald Arthur, who hit Gillette with his second pitch before ending the nightmare with an inning-ending strikeout. The 3 Hawks pitchers combined to walk 4 batters, hit 3 more and surrender 4 base hits in the third inning alone.
Gillette’s second double of the game brought in another run and capped a 3-run fifth that began with another Nieuwenhuis leadoff walk and gave the Cougars a commanding 12-1 lead at the contest’s halfway point. Gillette finished with a game-high 3 hits in a 3-for-4 effort in the opener, and 14 Cougars were put on base by way of walks or hit by pitch. Senior righthander Andrew Shive scattered 2 runs on 6 hits and struck out 4 in 6.1 innings of work to pick up the win.
Gillette was 3-for-4 again in the nightcap, but he was Azusa Pacific’s only multi-hit batter in the contest. The Cougars surrendered 3 first-inning runs to the Hawks, putting leadoff batter Andrew Hayashi on base with a hit by pitch before back-to-back base hits gave San Diego Christian a 1-0 lead before the first out had been recorded. The Hawks scored their second and third runs on consecutive groundouts.
Sophomore Chris Feicht delivered a 2-out pinch-hit single with runners on second and third in the second inning, cutting the lead to 3-1, and the Cougars briefly took the lead an inning later with a 3-run third. Venegas drew a leadoff walk, Dowell singled to right, and Kohatsu was hit by pitch to load the bases for Nieuwenhuis, who delivered a game-tying 2-run single to right with no outs. Cutspec’s groundout scored Kohatsu from third base for a 4-3 Azusa Pacific lead, but the Hawks escaped further damage by nabbing a would-be Cougar base-stealer for the second out before an inning-ending groundout.
The lead was short-lived, as San Diego Christian tallied 4 runs in the bottom of the third, with Manny Hernandez and Kensoli Fonseca delivering back-to-back 2-run singles with 1 out before the Cougars turned a double play to end the inning with a 7-4 deficit. The Cougars loaded the bases in the fourth and fifth innings without scoring, then loaded them again with 2 outs in the seventh inning after Gillette hit a 1-out RBI double that cut the lead to 8-5. Nevarez, who entered with runners on first and third with 1 out in the seventh, threw a wild pitch and walked a batter before getting the final groundout, picking up the eventful save.
With the split, Azusa Pacific is now 33-8 overall, 21-7 GSAC, while San Diego Christian is now 16-20 overall, 11-17 GSAC. The Cougars return to action with a midweek home-and-away series with fourth-place California Baptist, which has won 8 of its past 10 games, including a home doubleheader sweep of Fresno Pacific. Azusa Pacific hosts the GSAC’s hottest team on Wednesday, April 16, followed by a visit to the Lancers on Thursday, April 17, with both games scheduled to start at 3 p.m.