AZUSA, Calif. -- Azusa Pacific scored in its opening inning of all 3 games it played Saturday, scoring the game-winner in the top of the 15th in the continuation of Thursday’s suspended game before posting 3 runs in each game of a doubleheader split with Biola.
The top of the Cougar lineup set the table effectively for the fast starts in each game, with the top 4 spots in the lineup accounting for 10 of Azusa Pacific’s 13 hits and 10 of its 12 runs in the 2 games of the doubleheader. Junior infielders Sammy Soyring and Johnathan Erb each collected 2 hits in the opener with another hit in the nightcap. Soyring was a combined 3-for-7 in the doubleheader, reaching twice more on walks and scoring 5 runs, while Erb was 1 of 3 Cougars who drove in a pair of runs.
“Soyring has done a nice job of getting things going early for us,” Cougar head coach Paul Svagdis said. “He got on base and took some extra bases, and I think that gave the guys in the middle of the lineup an opportunity to have runners in scoring position early in the game and feel good about swinging the bat in those situations.”
Senior outfielder Alex Ring knocked in the game-winner in nearly identical fashion to the ninth-inning 2-out RBI single he hit 2 days ago, which forced the extra innings that caused the game to be suspended for darkness after 14 innings Thursday and completed Saturday prior to the teams’ regularly-scheduled GSAC doubleheader. Ring’s 2-out single through the right side lifted the Cougars to a 5-4 win, completing the final frame in 15 minutes, wrapping up a game that officially lasted 3 hours and 58 minutes.
With that order of business quickly out of the way, the Azusa Pacific offense got off to another quick start in the doubleheader opener. Sophomore designated hitter Jason Plowman’s 2-out RBI double capped a 3-run, 4-hit first inning for the Cougars, who added another run in the fifth to take a 4-3 lead on freshman centerfielder Matt Kimmel’s second sacrifice fly of the game.
Biola rallied for 3 runs in the top of the sixth after freshman starter Jacob Cage, the suspended-game winning pitcher, departed after 5 innings. Junior left-handed reliever Tim Lu had 2 outs in the sixth with runners on first and second when Josh Burket sliced an RBI single down the right-field line to tie the game at 4-4. The next 2 Biola hitters, Brian Loard and Christopher Neal, each added 2-out RBI singles to give the Eagles a 6-4 lead in the sixth inning.
The Eagles loaded the bases with no outs on a pair of walks and a fielder’s choice sacrifice bunt, where sophomore righthander Cameron Ross fielded the Johnny Farrington bunt and tried unsuccessfully to force out lead runner Benji Sutherland at third base. Ross got GSAC home run leader Drake Fages out on a run-scoring sacrifice fly before inducing an inning-ending double-play grounder back to the mound, escaping the bases-loaded, no-outs jam with only 1 run of damage that gave Biola the 7-4 edge.
Biola reliever Alex Brueske retired 9 of the first 10 Cougar batters he faced in 4.1 innings of scoreless relief, and he gave up only 1 hit in his outing. After issuing a 1-out walk in the ninth to Ring, Brueske was replaced by Eagles closer Cameron McVey, who struck out the final 2 batters for the save.
In the nightcap, junior righthander Ben Ruder retired the first 8 Biola hitters, and he benefited from another 3-run first inning from the Azusa Pacific offense. Each of the first 3 Cougar hitters reached safely, loading the bases with no outs, and junior first baseman Johnathan Erb brought the first run home on an RBI groundout to first base. After an infield popup for the second out, junior centerfielder Brent Warren shot a 2-out single back up the middle to score 2 runs and give Azusa Pacific a 3-0 first-inning lead for the second straight game.
“To come right back in the 7-inning game after losing the first of the doubleheader was a good job by the guys,” Svagdis said. “We’re really trying to stay focused on letting each game be over once it’s done and start a new day. We can’t look back to the past, and we really don’t need to look to the future. We just need to look to our next game, and we’ll see where we are after that.”
Biola got its first baserunner of the game with Johnny Farrington’s 2-out double down the first-base line in the top of the third inning, and he scored on Boone Farrington’s single through the right side the very next pitch. That cut the lead to 3-1, but the Cougars got the run back in the bottom of the frame on freshman catcher Matt Page’s sacrifice fly.
An inning later, Azusa Pacific pushed 4 runs across to take an 8-1 lead, scoring on 3 RBI singles from junior shortstop Anthony Rodriguez, junior second baseman Sammy Soyring, and Erb, plus a run-scoring sacrifice bunt from Ring, who appeared to beat the throw with a headfirst slide into first but was called out for the second out of the inning. The Cougars dropped 3 bunts down on the inning, and Rodriguez pulled a bunt attempt back to slash a chopper through the left side of Biola’s bunt defense.
“We’ve been trying to work on that side of the game, because we have a little different group of hitters than we have the past couple of years,” Svagdis said. “We’ve had both success and failure in executing that part of the game, but we’ve been practicing a lot with our execution and I think we’re learning from some of our mistakes. Over the last couple games they’ve gotten better with it, and the runners did a really good job of putting pressure on the defense by taking an extra base on balls in the dirt.”
Ruder surrendered single runs in the fifth and sixth innings, although a potential fifth-inning run was cut down at the plate on a Boone Farrington double down the left-field line. Senior leftfielder Josh Leite gathered the ball from in front of the foul pole in the left-field corner and his relay through Rodriguez cut down Michael Andrews trying to score from first at the plate.
Although Biola got a 2-out single from Benji Sutherland in the fifth and a mammoth 1-out solo home run from Fages in the sixth, Azusa Pacific entered the final inning of the 7-inning nightcap with an 8-3 advantage for senior reliever Nolan Rudman to protect.
Rudman surrendered a leadoff infield single up the middle to Boone Farrington, who later scored on a sacrifice fly in foul territory behind first base with Erb securing the catch going backwards near the fence in foul territory while the rightfielder, Ring, was attempting to make a sliding catch. The two nearly collided, but they avoided contact and Erb held on to the catch while Farrington raced home from third. Rudman got Fages to ground out to first base with a runner on second for the final out of the game.
Biola’s offense, which out-hit Azusa Pacific in both games of the doubleheader split, was led by Boone Farrington, who tallied 4 hits, 3 runs, and 2 RBIs on the day including a fifth-inning solo home run to right in the Eagles’ Game 1 win. Fages was 3-for-6 with a walk and 2 RBIs.
With the split, along with the completion of Thursday’s suspended game, Azusa Pacific improves to 10-9 overall with a 3-5 GSAC record heading into next week’s 4-game series against defending conference champion California Baptist, which is ranked No. 3 in the NAIA and has yet to suffer a GSAC loss through its first 2 4-game conference series against Concordia and Westmont. Biola drops to 9-8 overall, 3-3 GSAC.