AZUSA, Calif. -- Four pitches – plus a friendly roll, an innocuous bobble, and a solid display of situational hitting – was all it took for Azusa Pacific to erase a 3-0 lead Patten had meticulously built over the first 5 innings, and the Cougars followed their 3-run fifth inning with a 3-run sixth inning to take the lead for good in a 7-3 win Friday afternoon in the opener of a 3-game series with Patten.
After senior catcher Anthony Delgado led off the bottom of the fifth with a solid single to left, sophomore leftfielder Trevor Lothrop dropped a bunt inside the third-base line that initially appeared to be heading foul about halfway up the line. Patten third baseman Denis O’Connor chose to let the bunt continue up the line, hoping it would eventually roll foul, but the ball stayed within inches of the line in fair territory and bounced into third base for a bunt single.
On the next pitch, third baseman Dusty Sanderson executed the slash play to perfection, pulling back a bunt attempt for a full swing that connected for a single up the middle. With pinch-runner Matt Kimmel rounding third, Patten centerfielder Brian Mouton tried to field the grounder on the run for a throw to the plate, but he missed the ball entirely. The error allowed both Kimmel and Lothrop to score, and Sanderson scooted around to third on the play. Two pitches later, sophomore second baseman Ryan Henley lifted a fly ball to the opposite field, scoring Sanderson on the sacrifice fly to right to tie the game at 3-3.
In just 4 pitches, Patten’s 3-0 lead had vanished, even though the 3-run cushion had been difficult to construct. The Lions scored single runs in the first, third, and fifth innings, but they left many more on the basepaths, stranding 10 baserunners through the first 5 frames. Despite 11 hits in 5 innings, Patten had mustered only 3 total runs for starter Isaac Duran, who surrendered only 1 hit and faced only 2 batters over the minimum in 4 shutout innings to start the game.
Duran issued a leadoff walk to junior designated hitter Josh Leite to start the bottom of the sixth, and he stole second and moved to third on junior first baseman Johnathan Erb’s 1-out infield single off Patten reliever Tommy Papucci.
Leite scored the game-winning run on a Papucci balk, and the Cougars added a pair of 2-out runs on a sequence that included 2 of Azusa Pacific’s 3 extra-base hits in the game. Delgado hit a 2-out double off the right-field wall, and another error in the Patten outfield – this time a dropped fly ball to left – allowed a run to score while putting another Cougar on second base. Sanderson followed with another clutch hit, this time a grounder down the third-base line that he legged out for a 2-out RBI double that pushed the lead to 6-3.
Senior outfielder Alex Ring’s RBI single in the seventh rounded out the scoring, and Azusa Pacific’s bullpen finished the game with 4 shutout frames to seal the win. Junior righthander Noah Northrop picked up the win with a scoreless sixth inning, and senior righthander Nolan Rudman struck out 4 in 2 perfect innings. Sophomore righty Jason Plowman induced a game-ending double play to junior shortstop Anthony Rodriguez in the ninth.
Junior righthander Ben Ruder gave up 8 hits in 3 innings, but he struck out 3 and gave up just 2 runs while escaping a major third-inning jam with minimal damage. Patten loaded the bases with 3 consecutive singles to start the third inning, and a fourth straight hit scored a run and kept the bases loaded with no outs. However, Ruder rebounded with back-to-back strikeouts and an inning-ending groundout to third to end the threat with 3 more Lions stranded on the bases.
Ruder walked the fourth-inning leadoff man, but junior southpaw Tim Lu kept Patten scoreless in the fourth when he got an inning-ending unassisted double play from Rodriguez, who snagged a line drive with runners on first and second and stepped on second to double up the Patten baserunner. Lu’s scoreless frame extended the Azusa Pacific bullpen’s scoreless streak to 16 innings of shutout relief until Patten scored on a 2-out fifth-inning single off Lu. Cougar relievers held opponents to 6 hits over the 16-inning scoreless relief streak.
Delgado went 3-for-4 and Sanderson was 2-for-3 off the bench to lead the Cougars, who finished with 8 hits in the game. Patten shortstop David Whiteside and first baseman Alberto Gonzalez each had 3-hit games for the Lions in their 13-hit barrage.
The teams wrap up the 3-game series with a Saturday doubleheader, with the first game scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. With the win, Azusa Pacific improves to 4-0, while Patten is 1-3 and has lost 3 straight after winning its season opener last week at The Master’s College.