LEWISTON, Idaho -- Jonny Bravo wanted to make a statement, and his complete-game, 11-strikeout performance that jump-started Azusa Pacific’s 9-2 win over Ohio Dominican said all he wanted it to, keeping the Cougars alive in the 2008 Avista-NAIA World Series Saturday morning.
Less than 12 hours after a disappointing 9-8 defeat to Union (Ky.) in which it played uncharacteristically shaky on defense and tentative on the mound and at the plate, Azusa Pacific was back at Harris Field to wash away the taste of its first 3-game losing streak in over 2 years.
The 5-foot-7 southpaw’s statement wasn’t so much that he was going to be unhittable, as he scattered a pair of runs on 8 hits, but he was going to be relentless. Ohio Dominican leadoff hitter Venson Doster, the Panthers’ season steals leader with 43 swipes in 52 attempts this season, could certainly attest to that. After Doster slapped a leadoff single up the middle to open the game, Bravo gave a variety of pickoff looks to first before dealing to the plate. Bravo then caught Doster off balance before his next delivery, picking him off first base for the first out of the game.
“Our backs were against the wall, so I had to put the game in my hands,” said Bravo. “The complete game just happened. I got ahead (in a lot of counts), and things just fell the right way today. Usually by the time you go 7 innings, the pitch count is getting up there, but this is the World Series. You have to give it your all, and that’s what I did today.”
Bravo finished the inning with back-to-back strikeouts, the first 2 of a career-high 11 strikeouts that eclipsed his previous career-high of 10, which he set in an elimination game at last year’s World Series in a 7-4 win over Lee (Tenn.) University. The victory improved Bravo’s career won-lost record to 21-1, which includes his 9-1 mark this year, and the Cougars improved to 46-11 on the season.
“Obviously we were a little angry at ourselves for the way we came out and performed the first day, but we also knew we were putting a big-game pitcher out there on the hill today,” said Cougar head coach Paul Svagdis. “He did this for us last year and got us another day, and that’s all we’re playing for – just get to the next day, so I was really proud of the way he came out and competed.”
By the time Ohio Dominican got its first baserunner to second base with less than 2 outs, Azusa Pacific had spotted Bravo a 9-0 sixth-inning lead. Even 3 straight Ohio Dominican singles and a hit-batsman to lead off the sixth inning didn’t faze the Azusa Pacific junior hurler. Bravo promptly induced a run-scoring double-play grounder to shortstop that cut the Cougars’ lead to 9-2, then got out of the jam with a weak grounder to first base.
Bravo, who retired 9 of the first 12 batters he faced and erased 2 of those by his first-inning pickoff and a second-inning double play, finished off his 145-pitch effort the same way he started. He retired 11 of the final 13 Panthers, including 6 strikeouts over the final 3 innings.
“I stretched (Bravo) out because we felt like he was throwing well,” said Svagdis. “We do have confidence in our bullpen, but he was throwing good pitches. He earned the right to go back out there in the ninth, even though his pitch count was up, and we also felt he could be effective against the hitters that were coming up.”
Bravo’s performance allowed a Cougar pitching staff that ran 5 arms out in Friday’s first-round loss to take advantage of the complete-game effort with an extra day of rest to go along with the tournament’s scheduled off day Sunday.
“We’re just happy we get to stay a couple more days,” said Svagdis. “(Baseball) is a game where you play one game at a time, and who knows what will happen.”
“We just want to come out and play good baseball. I’m not sure we played great today, but we pitched really well. Ohio Dominican is obviously a really good club, and they put a really good push on in the middle innings when they loaded the bases with no outs. We were really fortunate to get out of that jam, and we’re just happy to move on.”
The Cougars got on the board early with a 2-out rally in the bottom of the first, turning junior centerfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis’ 4-pitch walk into a run without a base hit. Nieuwenhuis stole second base without a throw before senior catcher Stephen Kohatsu reached on a hit-batsman. Sophomore first baseman Brice Cutspec’s hard grounder to the second baseman’s glove side was misplayed, and Nieuwenhuis came around from second for the game’s first run.
An inning later, Azusa Pacific made the most of a leadoff walk issued to junior leftfielder Stephen Gillette by Ohio Dominican ace David Colopy, who entered the game sporting an 11-1 record and the NAIA’s 13th-lowest ERA (1.98). Consecutive groundouts moved Gillette to third, and junior rightfielder Drew Evans drilled the first pitch he saw from Colopy into the right-center field gap for an RBI double. Senior shortstop Matt Venegas drew a walk, and junior third baseman Ryan Dowell knocked a single into right to score Evans from third for a 3-0 Azusa Pacific lead.
Kohatsu reached on a throwing error to lead off a 4-run outburst in the bottom of the third inning. Courtesy runner Carlos Maddox took second on a wild pitch, then held at third on Cutspec’s single through the right side. Colopy struck out Gillette and induced a popup for the second out, but just as it had the 2 previous innings, Azusa Pacific cashed in with 2 outs. Senior second baseman Grant Beyer singled through the left side to bring Maddox home, and Evans smashed a 3-run home run to left center to push the Cougar advantage to 7-0.
“I was a lot more focused today than I was yesterday,” said Evans, who was 1-for-5 with 2 strikeouts in Friday’s defeat. “Today I was focused on staying on top of the ball and hitting line drives, and it ended up paying off. I think everybody was ready to get back on the field and start playing again, because we know that we can play a lot better than we played last night. We just wanted to get back out there and get a fresh start.”
Colopy issued another leadoff walk in the bottom of the fourth inning, this time to Nieuwenhuis, and Kohatsu followed it up with a single up the middle. Although Nieuwenhuis was gunned down at third base on a double-steal attempt, Cutspec cashed in the remaining baserunner and legged out an RBI double down the left-field line. Back-to-back wild pitches brought Cutspec home for Azusa Pacific’s ninth unanswered run of the game.
“We met with Coach when we got back to the hotel last night, and we got back on our game plan last night,” said Kohatsu. “We came out here differently – our approach was our normal approach that we took all year. Today we applied it, and the result spoke for itself.”
Cutspec and Evans each tallied 2 hits for the Cougars, who tallied all 9 runs and 8 of their 9 hits in the first 4 innings. The Evans home run was his 13th of the season, and it knocked Colopy from the game after 86 pitches in two-and-two-thirds innings of work.
“When you knock a starter out of the game, you want to continue to put a little push on, and the lefthander they brought in did a really good job and shut us down,” said Svagdis. “Hopefully we don’t sit back and play for the big inning, because we want to be able to punch and push a little more. We want to be a little better when we get to the bullpen.”
Bravo struck out 7 of the 9 Ohio Dominican starters, although Doster and catcher Joe Janusik each recorded a pair of singles to lead the Panthers, who finish the year 40-16 overall.
Azusa Pacific takes on Spring Arbor (Mich.) University in Monday’s 8:30 a.m. elimination contest.
Exclusive live video of the 52nd Annual World Series is available via the Internet, with all tournament games available through www.watchNAIA.com. The All-Tournament Pass is $23.95 and any single game may be purchased for $6.95.
In addition, live audio for every World Series game will be broadcast free on the Internet at KOZE-Sports.com.