AZUSA, Calif. -- Junior first baseman Johnathan Erb’s 2-run fourth-inning home run was the first home run of the 2011 season for Azusa Pacific, and it gave the Cougars the lead for good in a 9-2 win over Simpson Wednesday evening to complete a 2-game sweep of the season-opening series with the Red Hawks.
Just as it did in Tuesday’s season opener, Azusa Pacific quickly erased an early deficit, and the Cougar pitching line was practically identical to the previous day, with a trio of relievers combining for 5 shutout innings to close out the victory. Erb finished the day 2-for-2 with 3 runs, 2 RBIs, a walk and a hit by pitch, and sophomore righthander Cameron Ross picked up the win with 3 scoreless innings of 1-hit relief. Jason Plowman fired a scoreless eighth, and Nolan Rudman needed just 12 pitches to throw a perfect 1-2-3 ninth to close out the win.
Erb doubled in his first at-bat for the second straight game, leading off the bottom of the second with a 2-bagger to right-center. He eventually scored to tie the game at 1-1 on Trevor Lothrop’s sacrifice fly. Two innings later, Simpson re-claimed the lead with a fourth-inning run on 3 singles off starting righthander Ben Ruder, who scattered 2 runs on 5 hits in his 4 innings of work.
The Red Hawks’ 2-1 lead lasted just 3 pitches into the Cougar half of the fourth. Freshman designated hitter Matt Kimmel deposited the first pitch he faced into shallow left field with a soft liner for a leadoff single. Two pitches later, Erb smacked Simpson starter Scott McKeen’s 0-1 offering off the brand-new right-field netting with plenty of room to spare for the 2-run shot that gave the Cougars a 3-2 lead.
Azusa Pacific turned just 1 hit and 1 error into 5 sixth-inning runs to extend its lead to 8-2. Kimmel led off the inning and reached on a dropped fly ball at the warning track in left-center field, and Erb was hit by pitch. After Kimmel and Erb pulled off a successful double steal, Lothrop was intentionally walked with 1 out to load the bases. Sophomore third baseman Brendan Casey brought in 1 run on a fielder’s choice grounder to the first baseman, and Ryan Henley’s sacrifice fly scored the second run of the inning.
With runners at first and third with 2 outs, junior centerfielder Brent Warren registered the only hit of the inning when he beat out a run-scoring squeeze bunt. A passed ball moved runners to second and third, and a balk was followed by another passed ball to bring Warren all the way around the bases and close out the 5-run outburst.
Simpson scored single runs in the first and fourth innings, but senior rightfielder Alex Ring helped erase second- and third-inning threats with a pair of strong, accurate throws from right field. In the second inning, Angel Marti hit a 1-out triple and tried to score on a fly out to Ring, who threw him out at home by a couple of steps for the inning-ending double play. The very next inning, Ring fielded a hard grounder on the run and gunned down Simpson leadoff hitter Chris Rabichaud at first base for the rare right field-to-first base groundout.
With the win, Azusa Pacific is off to a 2-0 start for the sixth consecutive season, and the Cougars return to action with a Tuesday, Feb. 1 visit to NCAA Division III Claremont-Mudd-Scripps. Simpson drops to 0-2 heading into a 3-game series at California Baptist.