AZUSA, Calif. -- If first impressions are any indication, there is a lot to like about what type of season the Azusa Pacific baseball team is capable of producing in 2011.
The Cougars rallied from 3 runs down for 8 unanswered runs, and the bullpen fired 5 shutout innings to close out an 8-3 non-conference win over Simpson in the 2011 season opener Tuesday night in Azusa.
Four different pitchers, all new to the mound for Azusa Pacific this year, combined to scatter 3 runs on 6 hits, and 8 of the Cougars’ 11 hits came from newcomers. Junior righthander Colby Gurney started the game, recording 6 strikeouts in 4 innings, and he was supported by 5 scoreless innings of relief that started with true freshman righthander Jacob Cage’s 3 scoreless no-hit innings.
Cage struck out 3 and ended up collecting the win, and he was followed by scoreless frames from senior Nolan Rudman and sophomore Jason Plowman. Rudman hit the leadoff batter in the eighth inning and conceded a 1-out infield single before inducing a pair of groundouts to end the inning, and Plowman struck out 2 in his shutout frame in the ninth in his first collegiate pitching appearance.
“We have to get a lot better, but I was happy with the way our pitchers responded to adversity,” Cougar head coach Paul Svagdis said. “Whether it was coming back and pitching a clean inning after the home run, or having extra guys on base because of our errors on defense, our pitchers did a good job of filling up the zone and continuing to trust their teammates. They did a good job of getting ahead and battling some adversity that we put them in as a defensive unit.”
Junior shortstop Anthony Rodriguez’s 3-for-5 performance in his Azusa Pacific debut paced the Cougars’ 11-hit attack, and junior first baseman Johnathan Erb hit safely in his first 2 at-bats and finished the day 2-for-4 with 2 RBIs. Senior centerfielder Brent Warren and senior rightfielder Alex Ring each collected 2 hits, and Warren stole 2 bases to highlight an Azusa Pacific running game that swiped a total of 6 bases.
“I’m excited that the guys did a good job coming back and answering, but there are a lot of things that we still have to work on,” Cougar head coach Paul Svagdis said. “We’re not designed to drive the ball out of the yard, so to strike out 12 times in a game shows us an area we’ve got to work on.”
It was Warren’s leadoff single and steal in the bottom of the seventh that set up the go-ahead score for the Cougars. Rodriguez beat out a bunt single and advanced to third when the tardy throw to first sailed wide of the bag, also allowing Warren to score from second base on the play to snap a 3-3 tie. Rodriguez made it 5-3 when he score on Ring’s RBI single, and Ring scored later on freshman designated hitter Matt Kimmel’s 2-out single to push the lead to 6-3.
An inning later, junior second baseman Sammy Soyring hit a leadoff double and scored on a Rodriguez double in the right-field gap. Rodriguez then scored on Ring’s fielder’s choice grounder to third, making it an 8-3 game with a slide around the block of home plate by Simpson catcher Matthew Alton, who cleanly fielded a low throw from the third baseman but could not apply the tag before Rodriguez slapped home plate with his right hand for the run.
Simpson got on the board first on a 2-out, 3-run home run in the top of the third inning from first baseman Chris Moody, a pop fly down the right-field line that hit the top of the short right-field fence. The Cougars were quick to answer, however, rallying for 3 runs of their own in the bottom of the third. Erb’s soft liner to right with the bases loaded scored a pair, and senior catcher Anthony Delgado brought senior Josh Leite home from third for the tying run on a fielder’s choice grounder to the shortstop.
Moody and leftfielder Daveron Ross each went 2-for-4 to account for 4 of Simpson’s 6 hits in the game. Brad Hurn, Daniel Chavez and Adrian DeMar combined for 12 strikeouts, with Hurn, the game’s starter, recording 6 in 4 innings of work.
The win is Azusa Pacific’s 15th consecutive season-opening victory, including 8 consecutive under Svagdis. The Cougars wrap up the season-opening 2-game series with Simpson with another 5:30 p.m. contest in Azusa on Wednesday, Jan. 26.