AZUSA, Calif. -- Azusa Pacific opened Golden State Athletic Conference play with a shuffled lineup that came up with 2 early runs, and junior righthander Colby Gurney did the rest, dealing 7 strong innings of 4-hit ball to lead the Cougars to a 4-1 win over Vanguard Wednesday evening.
Gurney faced only 1 batter over the minimum through the first 7 innings before Vanguard finally caught up with him in the eighth on a leadoff walk followed by consecutive singles that cut Azusa Pacific’s lead to 4-1.
“Colby is a competitor on the mound, and it’s a challenge when a guy gets on base to find a way to get him out,” Cougar head coach Paul Svagdissaid. “He’s a mature pitcher, and he’s an intelligent pitcher who has a good awareness of how to manage the game. He manages it with his set times, his pick moves, and his ability to throw pitches to get ground balls and double plays when he needs it, and that’s what gives him that ability to get out of those situations.”
After a second-inning leadoff double, Gurney retired 9 straight Lions, and he erased a fifth-inning leadoff single with a double-play grounder. The only other Vanguard baserunner in the first 7 innings came from a 1-out walk, Gurney picked off the pinch-runner to take the Cougars into the eighth inning with the shutout still intact.
“I try not to let things get to me,” Gurney said. “There’s always a solution or a result you can have to get out of any kind of situation. On the first guy, I wanted to get my 2-seam inside to get a ground ball for a double play, and he did just that. When they brought in the pinch-runner, I figured they wanted to steal so the pickoff would be a good idea.”
In the eighth, Gurney issued a leadoff walk to Jacob Domingos, which was followed by back-to-back singles from Jerry Pena and Kyle Hardman that scored Domingos for Vanguard’s first run of the game. Senior righthander Nolan Rudman came out of the bullpen to strand the 2 baserunners in the eighth, and he sandwiched 3 ninth-inning strikeouts around a 1-out single followed by a 1-out walk to pick up his first save of the year.
The Cougars got on the board with a 2-run second inning, doing all its offensive damage with 2 outs in the frame. After Vanguard starter Robert Purpura struck out the first 2 batters in the second, junior centerfielder Brent Warren singled to left and stole second base. Sophomore third baseman Brendan Casey drew a walk, and junior shortstop Anthony Rodriguez delivered an RBI single through the left side to give Azusa Pacific a 1-0 lead. A 2-out error loaded the bases for sophomore second baseman Ryan Henley, who provided a run-scoring infield single on a slow chopper between third base and the pitcher’s mound.
“It’s good to score, and to score early, particularly after a couple games where we hadn’t done that,” Svagdis said. “Purpura is a really good pitcher, and he had a really good fastball and slider, so for us to get a couple runs early put a little confidence in us and relaxed our hitters a little bit at the plate.”
Purpura settled down to retire the next 10 Cougar batters, but Rodriguez sparked another rally with a leadoff single down the third-base line. He stole second before moving to third on another Vanguard error that allowed Josh Leite to reach safely, and he scored on right-handed reliever Corey Kohnke’s wild pitch. With Leite on second base, senior outfielder Alex Ring produced a pinch-hit RBI single with a sharp grounder between first and second base which was nearly picked on a short-hop to the backhand side by first baseman Kyle Hardman. However, the ball got past Hardman into right field, bringing Leite around to score and give the Cougars a 4-0 lead heading into the final 2 innings.
“Right after we got that first run across, I was thinking that was all I needed and I wasn’t going to let anyone get past me,” said Gurney, who has held opposing hitters to a .163 batting average through his first 5 starts in the first year of college baseball’s move to a different style of bat that has so far drastically reduced run production throughout the game. “With these bats, if you make the right pitches the ball isn’t going to go anywhere. Last year, a couple of those pop-ups would have been hit out of the park easy, so I love the new bats. This year it’s a pitcher’s game instead of a hitter’s game.”
Rodriguez led all hitter with a 2-for-4 performance, and he was the only player in the game to score and drive in a run. All 5 Vanguard hits came from the middle of the Lion lineup, and designated hitter Jason Dovel provided the visitors’ only extra-base hit, a second-inning leadoff double. Sophomore leftfielder Trevor Lothrop was 1-for-3, and his first-inning double was the only extra-base hit in the Cougars’ 8-hit tally. Freshman Matt Kimmel stole a pair of bases as the courtesy runner for catcher Anthony Delgado, leading an Azusa Pacific running game that was 5-for-5 on stolen bases.
“Anytime we get a conference win, we’re pretty happy about that, so it’s good to get off to a good start,” said Svagdis, whose Cougars had dropped GSAC openers in each of the past 3 seasons. “I’m really proud of the energy of the guys, and they’ve been working hard, so it’s good for them to get a little kick-back from it.”
With the win, Azusa Pacific improves to 8-4 overall, 1-0 GSAC, while Vanguard falls to 4-7 overall, 0-1 GSAC. The 4-game conference-opening series continues with a 3 p.m. doubleheader on Thursday in Azusa, and it wraps up Friday with a single 12 p.m. contest in Costa Mesa.