AZUSA, Calif. -- A return home was supposed to provide the quick cure to Azusa Pacific’s shaky start to Golden State Athletic Conference baseball play, but Vanguard refused to cooperate, rallying in both games of Friday’s doubleheader to complete a shocking series sweep of the NAIA’s No. 17-ranked Cougars with 11-10 and 16-10 victories.
Vanguard’s first-ever season series sweep of Azusa Pacific has also handed the Cougars their first-ever 0-4 start to conference play in 24 years of GSAC baseball.
In the opener, Vanguard rallied from an 8-2 deficit in the sixth inning, scoring 9 runs over the final 4 frames to pick up the 11-10 win. Azusa Pacific jumped out to a 5-0 lead after 2 innings in the nightcap, but Vanguard answered with 4 runs in the third and exploded for a 10-run sixth for the 16-10 win that completed the sweep. The games, originally scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 27, were moved ahead by 1 day to avoid the Southern California rainstorm that washed out all 4 of the remaining GSAC baseball matchups Saturday.
Vanguard took the lead in the eighth inning of the first game when a pair of 2-out errors, both relatively routine grounders that would have ended the inning with an Azusa Pacific lead intact, led to 4 unearned runs that pushed the Lions in front, 9-8. Senior catcher Ryan Delgado tied the game with an RBI double with no outs in the bottom of the eighth, putting the go-ahead run in scoring position for the Cougars’ No. 4, 5 and 6 spots in the lineup. Vanguard RHP Michael Anderson struck out senior first baseman Brice Cutspec for the first out before Azusa Pacific loaded the bases on a walk and a single from junior centerfielder Josh Leite. Anderson got out of the jam with a double-play grounder to shortstop that preserved the 9-9 tie.
Two of Vanguard’s first 3 hitters in the ninth hit solo home runs for an 11-9 Lions lead. Junior second baseman Virgil Chavira’s 2-out single to center brought in a run that trimmed the lead to 11-10, but Delgado drilled a scorching grounder at Vanguard shortstop Zachary Leighton, who fielded it cleanly and flipped to second base for the game-ending force play.
Leite hit a grand slam in the first inning of the nightcap, and freshman first baseman Jason Plowman added a solo shot in the second inning to give the Cougars a 5-0 lead in the 7-inning nightcap. However, the fielding woes that led to the first-game collapse returned in the third inning, with a pair of miscues leading to 2 unearned runs in the Lions’ 4-run frame. Senior catcher Chris Feicht hit a solo home run in the fourth, and Azusa Pacific took a 9-6 lead after 5 innings with a 3-run fifth.
The Cougars committed 2 more costly errors, both with 2 outs before Vanguard took the lead, that contributed to a 10-run explosion that sent 14 Lions to the plate in the inning. Eight of the 10 runs scored in the frame were unearned, and it took 3 Azusa Pacific relievers to get just 1 out each to end the nightmarish inning.
Plowman hit his second leadoff home run of the game in the bottom of the sixth, cutting the deficit to 16-10, and freshman second baseman Ryan Henley followed by drawing a 4-pitch walk. However, the next Cougar hitter grounded into a double play, and 4 of the final 5 Azusa Pacific batters struck out to end the game.
Delgado turned in 3-hit efforts in both games of the doubleheader, as did Vanguard’s Eric Krzysiak, and Leite hit home runs in each game to push his season home run total to a team-high 6.
After surrendering the sweep, Azusa Pacific drops to 7-5 overall, 0-4 in GSAC play, while Vanguard improves to 12-1 overall, 4-0 GSAC. The Cougars’ next conference foe is Biola, which visits Azusa for 2 p.m. contests on Wednesday and Thursday, March 3-4, before next Saturday’s 11 a.m. doubleheader (March 6) in La Mirada.