COSTA MESA, Calif. -- Azusa Pacific took 5-1 lead in the middle innings of Friday’s GSAC-opening series finale, but Vanguard rallied for 6 runs in 3 innings to claim a 7-6 win over the Cougars in Costa Mesa.
The Cougars led every inning until the seventh and didn’t fall behind until Vanguard plated one run in the bottom of the eighth. Azusa Pacific put together a 2-out ninth-inning rally with back-to-back 2-out walks, but Vanguard’s Joseph Vega got a game-ending groundout back to the mound to hold off the Cougars at the end.
Junior shortstop Anthony Rodriguez hit a 2-run, 2-out, bases-loaded single in the top of the first inning to getting Azusa Pacific out in front with an early 2-0 lead. Senior rightfielder Josh Leite laid down a bunt single to lead off the fifth, stole a pair of bases to get to third, then pushed the lead to 3-1 when he scored on a passed ball.
Things looked even better in the sixth, as the Cougars cashed in a leadoff walk with a hit-batsman and a pair of hits for 2 more runs that made it a 5-1 lead heading into the bottom of the sixth. Vanguard, which had managed only 1 run on 7 hits through the first 5 innings off Cougar starter Ben Ruder, scored a pair of runs on 3 straight 1-out hits to pull within 5-3.
A passed ball in the seventh provided another insurance run, putting Azusa Pacific in front by a 6-3 margin. However, Vanguard picked up where it left off an inning earlier, this time stringing together 4 consecutive hits to lead off the bottom of the seventh. Two singles, a double, and another single pushed 3 runs across to tie the game at 6-6 before senior righthander Nolan Rudman retired 3 straight hitters with runners on first and third to keep the game tied heading into the final 2 frames.
Tyson Leighton’s 1-out double down the right field line with runners on first and second scored the game-winner for the Lions, who won 3 straight games after dropping Wednesday’s series opener to Azusa Pacific.
The Cougars’ 9-hit attack was led by 2-hit performances from outfielders Trevor Lothrop and Brent Warren. Azusa Pacific stole 5 bases on the day, led by Leite’s 2-steal performance. Vanguard’s offense tallied 15 hits, with 5 hitters registering multiple hits for the Lions.
With the loss, Azusa Pacific falls to 8-7 overall, 1-3 in GSAC play, while Vanguard improves to 7-7 overall, 3-1 GSAC. The Cougars return to action with next week’s 4-game GSAC series against Biola, which opens with single games in La Mirada Wednesday and Thursday ahead of a Saturday, March 5 doubleheader in Azusa.