AZUSA, Calif. -- On an afternoon when not much else went right for his team, senior first baseman Brice Cutspec gave Azusa Pacific a shot at a doubleheader split with a solo home run to right field that made Cutspec the NAIA’s all-time career home runs leader. The blast was the 73rd of his 4-year Cougar career, eclipsing the previous mark of 72 set from 1998-2001 by Lindsey Wilson (Ky.) College’s Steve Dover.
Cutspec led off the bottom of the seventh with Azusa Pacific trailing 7-6, taking the first 3 pitches offered by Fresno Pacific righthander Michael Rivera. All were on the outside part of the plate, with 2 catching the corner, but when Rivera tried to come inside with his 1-2 offering, Cutspec wasn’t caught off guard. He turned and blasted it over the right-field wall of the Cougar Baseball Complex with plenty of room to spare, tying the game at 7-7 in the final frame of the scheduled 7-inning nightcap.
“In that situation, you can’t put (the tying run) on base, so I knew I was going to get something to hit,” Cutspec said. “I took the first fastball and thought maybe I missed the best pitch I was going to see in that at-bat, but after he threw me another ball I knew he had to come back in (to the strike zone).”
Fresno Pacific, which won the opener by a 15-5 margin, scored on a passed ball in the first extra frame of the nightcap after Cutspec’s game-tying blast, completing the Golden State Athletic Conference doubleheader sweep with an 8-7, 8-inning win.
“It ended up being bittersweet because we lost, but having a home run record is awesome,” Cutspec said. “I tried to soak it in while it happened, but once I got back to the dugout I had to just wipe it out of my mind because the game wasn’t over.”
Cutspec tied Dover’s NAIA career mark in the first game of last week’s 4-game non-conference series at the NAIA’s top-ranked Lewis-Clark State (Idaho) College. He nearly broke the record with the bases loaded in the fifth inning of the first game Saturday when he hit a towering shot to the deepest part of the Cougar Baseball Complex, straightaway center field, for a sacrifice fly that pulled Azusa Pacific to within 7-2.
“I didn’t think it had the juice to go out, but I was glad it was at least able to get a run in,” Cutspec said.
“As much as people say they don’t think about things like records, it’s always something that sits in the back of your mind. There were situations throughout the day, where it’s in your head and you can’t get it out.”
When he did break the record with his game-tying shot in the bottom of the seventh of the second game, it completed an Azusa Pacific rally from a 7-2 deficit that tied the game at 7-7 and sent it to extra innings.
“To have (the record) happen in the game situation it happened in was awesome,” Cutspec said. “It was also great to hit it at home, because you always hope those things can happen at home.”
Fresno Pacific pushed the winning run across in the top of the next inning when Patrick Bariteau scored from third on a 2-out passed ball. Bariteau led off the eighth with a single, moving over to third on a sacrifice bunt and a groundout.
The Cougars were retired in order in the bottom of the eighth by Fresno Pacific righthander Michael Rivera, who picked up the win with a 2.2-inning relief appearance. Rivera retired 8 of the 9 batters he faced, and Cutspec’s record-setting blast was the only hit he allowed.
Cutspec was 3-for-6 on the day, drawing a walk in each game of the twinbill. Senior third baseman Ryan Delgado also hit safely in both games of the doubleheader, extending his conference-play hitting streak to 15 straight GSAC games.
Fresno Pacific never trailed in either game, taking early leads with first-inning solo home runs in both games. In the opener, Tyler Pryor gave the Sunbirds a 1-0 lead with a 2-out shot to right field, and in the nightcap it was Matt Souza’s 1-out shot down the left-field line that put Fresno Pacific on the board.
Trailing 7-1 in the opener, Azusa Pacific loaded the bases in back-to-back innings. In the bottom of the fifth, Cutspec’s sacrifice fly to center cut the Fresno Pacific lead to 7-2, and the Cougars got a pair of runners on base on swinging third strikes in the dirt that resulted in wild pitches. The first one would have been the third out of the inning, and the Cougars took advantage by cashing in a pair of runs on 3 straight hits. Another wild pitch on a swinging strikeout loaded the bases, but Fresno Pacific opening-game starter Sean Cunningham froze Cutspec with a 1-2 pitch on the outside corner to finish the inning with the Sunbirds still holding a 7-4 advantage.
After a scoreless seventh, Fresno Pacific tallied 8 runs on 8 hits off 5 different Cougar relievers in the final 2 innings to run away with a 15-5 victory. The Sunbirds kept their offensive momentum going into the second game, scoring in each of the first 5 innings of the nightcap to take a 7-2 lead into the bottom of the fifth.
Senior catcher Chris Feicht’s 1-out RBI single in the bottom of the fifth trimmed the lead to 7-3. A Fresno Pacific 2-out error kept the inning alive for freshman rightfielder Daniel Gonzales, who took advantage by knocking a 2-2 pitch over the right-field fence for a 3-run home run that pulled Azusa Pacific to within a run at 7-6.
On the day, Fresno Pacific scored 23 runs on 29 hits, and Pryor, the Sunbirds’ junior centerfielder, was at the center of his team’s offensive outburst with a 5-for-8 afternoon that included his sixth home run of the year. Pryor, the GSAC batting average leader (.468) entering the afternoon twinbill, was 12-for-17 in this week’s 4-game series. Case Rigby drove in 6 runs in the opener, going 3-for-6 with his sixth home run of the year, a ninth-inning 3-run blast that rounded out the Sunbirds’ scoring in the opener.
Following the sweep, Azusa Pacific drops to 14-22 overall and 7-17 GSAC, and the Cougars are 3 games behind sixth-place The Master’s College. Fresno Pacific improves to 23-9 overall and 15-9 GSAC, just 2 games out of a second-place tie between Point Loma Nazarene and Vanguard.
“This series could have put us in a much better position, but we can’t worry about where other teams are or what they do,” Cutspec said. “If we don’t play well, we won’t win. We just have to pull together for the last 13 games and play well.”
All 3 of Azusa Pacific’s remaining GSAC opponents have sub-.500 records, both overall and in GSAC play, and the Cougars return to action on Thursday, April 15, with a noon doubleheader against San Diego Christian.