FRESNO, Calif. -- Azusa Pacific took a 5-4 lead into the ninth inning, but the NAIA’s No. 21-ranked Fresno Pacific rallied for a pair of runs in the ninth to hand the Cougars their third straight walkoff defeat, 6-5, Wednesday night in Fresno.
Counting Tuesday night’s 1-0 exhibition loss to the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, Azusa Pacific has suffered walkoff defeats each of the past 4 times it has taken the field. The Cougars also gave up game-winning hits in the final at-bat to the NAIA’s top-ranked Lewis-Clark State in the final 2 games of last week’s 4-game series.
Senior third baseman Ryan Delgado sparked Azusa Pacific to rally from a 4-0 deficit after 4 innings, knocking in the first Cougar run with a fifth-inning sacrifice fly before giving the Cougars a 5-4 lead an inning later with a 2-out, 2-run double with the bases loaded in the top of the sixth inning. However, Azusa Pacific was held without another score, leaving 5 runners on base in the final 3 innings to set up Fresno Pacific’s ninth-inning comeback.
Senior righthander Garrett Hodges entered the game in the ninth to preserve the lead, but he plunked the first batter he faced to put the tying run on base. Pinch-runner Karlan Andrews moved to second on a sacrifice bunt, and Matt Souza’s RBI double to right-center tied the game at 5-5. Souza scored the game-winning run from second base on the most recent walkoff hit given up by the Cougars, Tyler Pryor’s single to left that lifted the Sunbirds to the 6-5 victory.
Every player in Azusa Pacific’s starting lineup reached base safely, with Delgado leading a quartet of 2-hit performers. Senior first baseman Brice Cutspec was walked each of his first 4 plate appearances, including an intentional pass that loaded the bases for Delgado in the sixth inning. The Cougars registered 12 hits and drew 8 walks, but Fresno Pacific pitchers David Hawes and Michael Jimenez stranded 14 of them to limit the damage done through Azusa Pacific’s offensive advantage.
Hawes surrendered all 5 Azusa Pacific runs on 9 hits and 7 walks, while Jimenez picked up the victory by scattering 3 hits over 2.1 scoreless innings to finish the game. Cougar starter Ian Kelly gave up back-to-back 2-run frames in the third and fourth innings, although 2 of the 4 runs he allowed were unearned. Kelly struck out 6 in 6 innings and was in line for the win until Fresno Pacific’s ninth-inning rally. Senior lefthander Peter Gehle pitched the seventh and eighth innings to get the ball to Hodges for the ninth, and Gehle struck out 3 batters and allowed just 1 hit in his 2 innings of relief work.
Cougar middle infielders Virgil Chavira and Ryan Henley each extended season-high double-digit hitting streaks with 1-for-5 performances at the plate. Henley, a freshman second baseman, singled to center in the fifth inning to extend his streak to 13 games, and the junior shortstop Chavira led off the game with a base-hit to extend his streak to 11 games. Junior catcher Anthony Delgado was 2-for-3 with a walk, his first multi-hit game since March 6.
With the loss, Azusa Pacific’s fifth in a row on the road, the Cougars drop to 13-20 overall and 6-15 in GSAC play. Fresno Pacific strengthened its hold on fourth place in the GSAC, improving to 21-8 overall, 13-8 GSAC. The Sunbirds are 2 games behind third-place Point Loma Nazarene and hold a 2-game edge over fifth-place Biola. Azusa Pacific is tied for eighth in the GSAC with Westmont, a half-game ahead of last-place San Diego Christian.
The series continues on Thursday with a 2 p.m. matchup in Fresno, and Fresno Pacific visits the Cougar Baseball Complex for a noon doubleheader that wraps up the 4-game series on Saturday, April 10.