AZUSA, Calif. -- California Baptist claimed sole possession of first place in the Golden State Athletic Conference baseball standings after completing a 4-game series sweep over Azusa Pacific with Saturday’s 14-4, 7-4 doubleheader sweep at the Cougar Baseball Complex, a venue in which the Lancers had lost 10 straight.
California Baptist roughed up Cougar pitching for 32 hits, 28 of them singles, but save for one big inning in each contest, Azusa Pacific still had victory within its reach and even sent the tying run to the plate in the bottom of the sixth inning of the nightcap. Despite the sweep, plenty of bright spots that could eventually put the Cougars back into the thick of the conference playoff race later this year were on display Saturday.
The positives include a table-setter in the leadoff spot, junior rightfielder Virgil Chavira, who recorded hits in both games and is hitting a team-high .392 in conference play. Another promising development was the potency of the middle of the Cougar lineup, with the fourth, fifth and sixth hitters combining for 12 hits in 24 at-bats while driving in 7 of Azusa Pacific’s 8 runs on the day.
Senior catcher Ryan Delgado gave Azusa Pacific a standout defensive effort behind the plate, holding the GSAC’s most aggressive baserunning team in check for all 16 innings. Delgado gunned down 5-of-8 would-be base thieves in the doubleheader, and 2 of California Baptist’s successful steals came from an unfriendly bounce on a double steal. Delgado’s throw to third ricocheted off the bat of the current Lancer hitter, resulting in a charged error that scored 1 of California Baptist’s 7 fourth-inning runs in the opener.
Delgado hit the first of back-to-back home runs with 2 outs in the bottom of the sixth inning, a 2-run shot to left that was immediately followed by junior centerfielder Josh Leite’s solo smash to right to trim the Lancers’ lead to 9-3 with 3 full innings left to play. Freshman second baseman Ryan Henley hit his first collegiate home run, a seventh-inning solo shot to left, to round out the Azusa Pacific scoring in the opener.
In the nightcap, Leite doubled Delgado home in the fourth to tie the game at 1-1, but the Lancers answered with 4 straight singles to spark what turned out to be a 6-run fifth inning. California Baptist got 2 more singles with a pair of sacrifice flies in the frame, and a pair of throwing errors from the Cougar outfield helped the Lancers continue around the bases for a 7-1 lead. The lead was trimmed to 7-4 in the bottom of the fifth, when Delgado and Leite delivered consecutive run-scoring singles.
An inning later with 2 runners on base, Cutspec flew out to deep center field, putting a solid swing on a 2-0 pitch that could have been a game-tying 3-run home run had he gotten just a fraction more of the baseball. With the score still 7-4 in the seventh, Delgado led off the inning with a double off the center-field wall, but California Baptist closer Zach Hedges picked up his fifth save by striking out the next 3 hitters.
Senior designated hitter Chris Feicht picked up hits in both games to extend his 10-game hitting streak, and Leite was 4-for-8 on the day with 8 RBIs. Delgado was 4-for-4 in the nightcap, and Cutspec registered 2 hits in the opener and a pair of walks in the nightcap. Senior leftfielder Chris Cooper reached base safely in all 4 of his plate appearances in the second game, going 2-for-2 with a pair of walks.
The loss drops Azusa Pacific to 8-12 overall and 1-11 in GSAC play. California Baptist used the sweep to move ahead of Vanguard, which split Saturday’s twinbill at San Diego Christian, for sole possession of the GSAC lead. The Lancers are now 22-5 overall and 11-1 in the GSAC.
The Cougars’ next 4-game series is with defending GSAC champion Point Loma Nazarene, consisting of a road doubleheader (2 9-inning games) in San Diego on Thursday, March 18, along with the regular Saturday doubleheader in Azusa on Saturday, March 20.