AZUSA, Calif. -- Azusa Pacific split Saturday’s doubleheader against Concordia, pitching a combined 1-hit shutout for a 2-0 win in the second game of the doubleheader after Concordia won the opener, 16-2. The Cougars have won 2 of the 3 games in the season series, with a rainout earlier this week pushing the fourth game to a makeup date of Friday, April 22.
Senior righthander Nolan Rudman started the nightcap with 3 scoreless innings, getting the final out of the third after giving up Concordia’s only hit of the game. Matt Ivanoff hit a 2-out single to right with runners on first and second, who had reached on a hit-batsman and a walk, but senior rightfielder Alex Ring cut down Edgar Guillen at the plate with a perfect throw from right to keep Concordia scoreless.
Rudman walked 2 and struck out 5 in 3 shutout frames, and freshman righthander Jacob Cage was just as dominant, retiring the first 11 batters he faced before a 2-out walk in the seventh. Cage struck out Eagles pinch hitter Ryan Scornaienchi for the final out and his fifth strikouet of the game, picking up the win with 4 shutout, no-hit innings.
“I felt really good today,” Cage said. “Whatever my role is, I just want to do it the best I can, and today that was pitching in relief. I wasn’t afraid to challenge hitters, and I was able to get outs.”
Both teams were scoreless until the bottom of the fourth in the nightcap, until senior outfielder Josh Leite doubled to left center, just the second hit of the game for the Cougars. Ringlaid down a sacrifice bunt to move Leite from second to third, and a wild pitch from Concordia starting pitcher Dean Persinger allowed Leite to score from third to make it a 1-0 game.
“We felt like it was going to be a low scoring game, and we didn’t think we were going to be able to steal many bases off them,” Svagdis said. “We knew after the first inning we were going to have to hit and run or sacrifice guys over in order to make things happen. We opted to go for the sacrifice bunt a couple of times and the guys did a great job executing.”
The Cougars struck again for an insurance run in the bottom of the sixth. With 1 out, Ring swung at Persinger’s first pitch for a double down the left field line. Junior first baseman Johnathan Erb hit a 1-0 pitch for a single to right-center field, scoring Ring from third to extend Azusa Pacific’s lead to 2-0.
Persinger pitched all 6 innings for the Eagles, allowing 2 runs on 4 hits and 1 walk, and he struck out 1 Cougar hitter in a losing effort.
“We’ve been trying to take every game one game at a time, because you can’t change the past,” Cougar head coach Paul Svagdis said. “I was again impressed with the guys after taking it on the chin in the first game and moving forward. I was especially impressed with us defensively for not allowing the first game to carry over to the second.”
In the opener, Concordia jumped out to an early lead with a 5-run first inning. In the top of the first, Robbie Knowles hit a leadoff infield single down the first-base line and stole second. Matt Ivanoff followed with another infield single, a slow roller in no-man’s land between third base and home plate. Senior righthander Morgan Wynne got a 3-pitch strikeout of John Hill, but after another steal left first base open with Bryan Nicholson due up, the Cougars intentionally walked the Eagles’ best hitter to load the bases and set up the force play at any base.
Danny Casey followed with a 2-run single up the middle, and Tyler Derby’s fielder’s choice grounder to shortstop Anthony Rodriguez was mishandled for the first of 7 Azusa Pacific errors in the game. Ryan Sheeks added an RBI double down the left field line, and Kyle Konicek’s groundout to second base rounded out the first-inning scoring to give Concordia a 5-0 lead by the time the Cougars stepped to the plate in the bottom of the first.
Concordia never looked back, compiling 16 runs off 20 hits. Another 7 Eagles reached by walk or hit-batsman, plus the 7 Cougar errors. Concordia added 1 more run in the second, 2 in the fourth, 4 in the sixth, and finished with another 5-run frame in the ninth.
Sheeks was 4-for-6 with 2 runs, and he drove in half of his game-high 6 RBIs on a 1-out, 3-run home run in the sixth for his first home run of the year. Hill went 3-for-6 and 3 other Concordia hitters (Knowles, Casey, and Nicholson) added 2 hits, as well. Every starting player in the Eagles lineup had a hit, with a total of 12 Eagles batters hitting safely in the game.
Concordia starter Blake Harrison pitched 8 strong innings, giving up 2 runs, 1 walk, and 4 hits while striking out 4 for the win.
Freshman catcher Matt Page got the first Cougar hit in both games of the doubleheader, batting a combined 3-for-5 on the day to raise his batting average to .326 for the season and account for a third of Azusa Pacific’s 9 hits on the afternoon.
“You can’t focus too much on what the pitcher’s doing, you just have to keep with the process and take it one at-bat at a time,” Page said. “Each new game is an opening day, and it feels like we’re getting into a little bit of a groove. Every now and then we’ll have a game like the first one we had today, but they’re far and few between the good games we have.”
With the split, Azusa Pacific improves to 17-13 overall and brings its GSAC record a game above .500 at 10-9. Concordia is now 18-10 overall, 9-10 in GSAC play. The 4-game series will conclude on Friday, April 22, in Irvine, making up the second game of the series that was rained out both Thursday and Friday this week.
Azusa Pacific hosts Fresno Pacific for two midweek games on Wednesday and Thursday, March 30-31, and the 4-game series will conclude in Fresno with a noon doubleheader on Saturday, April 2.