AZUSA, Calif. -- Junior centerfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis hit a third-inning grand slam that gave Azusa Pacific the lead for good in a 9-6 win over Point Loma Nazarene Wednesday afternoon in NAIA Region II Baseball Playoffs action.
The Cougars, the tournament’s top seed, advance to a meeting with second-seeded Fresno Pacific Thursday at 11 a.m., in the double-elimination tournament, while Point Loma Nazarene is eliminated at the hands of Azusa Pacific for the second consecutive season.
With each of the 3 hitters ahead of him spraying consecutive singles to lead off the third inning, Nieuwenhuis drilled a 1-0 offering from Adam Herter just left of straightaway center field to cash in the runners with his blast that gave the Cougars a 6-5 lead. Azusa Pacific had taken an early 2-0 lead on junior leftfielder Stephen Gillette’s 2-run home run in the second inning, only to see Point Loma Nazarene send 10 batters to the plate and score 5 runs on 6 hits in the top of the third inning to give the Sea Lions a 5-2 lead.
Junior third baseman Ryan Dowell singled to center field, senior shortstop Matt Venegas singled through the right side and senior second baseman Grant Beyer got a base hit through the left side to load the bases for Nieuwenhuis.
Other than the 5-run third inning, junior southpaw Jonny Bravo was able to hold the Sea Lions in check, surrendering only 1 other hit in his 6.2-inning start. Bravo retired 10 of the final 11 batters he faced and struck out 7 to improve to 8-1 on the season.
Point Loma Nazarene loaded the bases with no outs on junior righthander Christian Gagné in the top of the eighth inning, but Gagné retired the next 3 batters while surrendering just a lone run on a groundout. The Cougars took their 9-6 lead into the ninth inning, where junior righthander Ben Jones slammed the door for the win with his sixth save of the season.
The grand slam was Nieuwenhuis’ lone hit of the day, and Gillette and sophomore first baseman Brice Cutspec led the way for the Cougar offence with 2 hits apiece. Point Loma Nazarene’s Alex Cameron and Drew Bernhard each had 2 hits in a losing effort for the Sea Lions.