RANCHO CUCAMONGA, Calif. -- Senior outfielder Alex Ring went 4-for-4, sparking Azusa Pacific’s early offensive outburst in the Cougars’ entertaining 6-4 exhibition defeat Tuesday night against the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, the Class A Advanced affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“You always want the best for the guys that work the hardest, and Alex just wills himself to be great every day,” Cougar head coach Paul Svagdis said. “He works hard in the batting cages on his own, before practice and after practice, so for him as a senior who went through adversity last year by missing the whole season to injury, he’s a guy you want to have that type of game.”
Ring reached safely in all 5 of his plate appearances, and he scored runs in both of Azusa Pacific’s 2-run frames in the first and second innings to lead the Cougars to an early 4-1 lead over the Dodgers farmhands. The Quakes answered with 2 runs in the bottom of the second, and they took the lead with a 2-run fifth before adding an eighth-inning insurance run.
Ring was front and center in a 2-out ninth-inning rally, hitting an infield single between third base and shortstop to keep the Cougars’ hopes alive. A dropped popup at third put first baseman Johnathan Erb on first while Ring moved around to third, and sophomore catcher Daniel Shouldice was hit by the first pitch he saw from Luis Vasquez to load the bases. Sophomore outfielder Tyler Putjenter worked a full count off Vasquez and put the ball in play, but his grounder to second was fielded cleanly with a good throw to first to end the game.
“This is one of the highlights of the year,” Ring said. “These guys we played against are professional talents, and they’re about as good as it gets. It’s a lot of fun to have the chance to come out here and compete with them.”
Erb was 2-for-4, and the junior first baseman played an instrumental role in Azusa Pacific’s quick start. After Ring reached in the first on catcher’s interference, Erb followed with a 1-out single to left off Quakes starter Ethan Martin, a 21-year old 6-foot-2 righthander who was drafted by the Dodgers in the first round of the 2008 draft.
“Believe me, I knew all about their new affiliation this year,” said Ring, a die-hard San Francisco Giants fan. “Beating up on the Dodgers’ affiliate was the best, and that was definitely my favorite part of the whole day.”
Erb scored the Cougars’ second run on freshman designated hitter Matt Page’s sacrifice fly to right, following a walk and hit-batsman that scored Ring first. In the second inning, Ring hit a 2-out single to center with a man on base, and Erb knocked both runners in with a double to right-center that pushed the Cougar lead to 4-1.
“These guys are throwing so hard and their stuff is so good, you just have to keep it simple,” Ring said. “All I tried to do was get my foot down and get the barrel of the bat on the ball – if you can do that, good stuff happens.”
Rancho Cucamonga loaded the bases and scored a run before the first out was recorded in the bottom of the second. Angelo Songco, a 2009 fourth-round draft pick, led off with a single to center that was followed by 2007 third-rounder Austin Gallagher’s single through the right side. Freshman righthander C.J. Beatty issued consecutive walks that loaded the bases and brought in a run that cut the lead to 4-2.
After Nick Buss popped out in foul territory behind third base, Beatty induced a potential double-play grounder to second base that could have ended the inning and gotten him out of the jam. However, the Cougars were only able to get a force out at second base for the second out, allowing a second Quakes run that trimmed Azusa Pacific’s edge to a single run at 4-3. After another walk that loaded the bases once more, Beatty escaped any further damage with an inning-ending groundout down the first-base line to Erb.
Gorman Erickson hit a 1-out double in the fifth that brought in a run that tied the game at 4-4, and he scored on Ramon Jean’s 2-out single 2 batters later to give Rancho Cucamonga a lead it never relinquished. The Quakes were retired in order in back-to-back innings, with junior righthander Noah Northrop setting them down in the sixth before sophomore righthander Jason Plowman did the same in the seventh. Joe Becker led off the eighth with a double to right-center off Plowman, moving to third on another Jean single before scoring on a wild pitch to push Rancho Cucamonga to a 6-4 lead. Pedro Guerrero tried to score from second base on a 2-out single to right, but Putjenter fired a 1-hopper to the plate that beat Guerrero for the third out.
“It’s always a phenomenal opportunity for our guys to get a chance to match up with professional baseball players,” Svagdis said. “We’re really appreciative of the Quakes and the Dodgers organizations for allowing us that chance, and I know our players appreciate it too. Most athletes want to get a feel for how they match up against the best, and these guys are the best to us.”
Buss, Jean, and Songco each recorded 2 hits for Rancho Cucamonga’s 10-hit attack, while Erb and Ring accounted for 6 of Azusa Pacific’s 8 hits. The Cougars benefitted from 4 Quakes errors while going error-free in the 9-inning contest, which was originally scheduled as a 7-inning game but was extended to 9 innings by a mutual pregame agreement between the coaching staffs of both teams.
“We’re trying to enjoy the process and have fun when we play,” said Svagdis, “but we still want to play hard. Having fun means playing hard and competing, and our guys have a good handle on that.”
Both teams left 10 runners on base, but Rancho Cucamonga pitchers combined for 12 strikeouts to just 3 for the Azusa Pacific pitching staff. Left-handed reliever Andy Suiter picked up the win with a scoreless inning of relief, ironically earning the decision as the only one of 5 Quakes pitchers who did not record a strikeout. He threw a scoreless fifth, surrendering a pair of hits and a walk but benefitting from a caught stealing and an outfield assist at the plate to end the inning. The save was credited to Luis Vasquez, who recorded 2 quick outs before loading the bases in the ninth.
Four Cougars pitched 2 innings apiece, beginning with Beatty’s start and followed by 2-inning efforts from freshman Hunter Brown, Northrop, and then Plowman. Brown surrendered 2 hits and 2 walks but did not give up a run, and Plowman struck out 2 in his 2-inning outing.
Rancho Cucamonga has now won 4 straight in the annual exhibition series with Azusa Pacific, which resumes its Golden State Athletic Conference schedule with a 4-game series later this week with San Diego Christian. The Cougars are on the road for a pair of games Thursday and return home to close out the 4-game series with a noon doubleheader in Azusa on Saturday, April 9.
Shouldice update: Daniel Shouldice, who left the game after it appeared he was hit in the head by a pitch in the ninth inning, was diagnosed with an eye contusion and is expected to make a full recovery.