AZUSA, Calif. -- Junior outfielder Brent Warren couldn’t have picked a better time to blast his first collegiate home run.
One second, Warren faced a 1-2 count with 2 outs in the bottom of the ninth with Azusa Pacific just 1 strike away from suffering a surprising 5-4 defeat to San Diego Christian. The next instant, he was sprinting around the bases after blasting a dramatic 2-run walkoff shot to right field that lifted his team to a 6-5 win in the opening game of a Golden State Athletic Conference doubleheader Saturday afternoon in Azusa.
“The only thing going through my mind was just to put the ball in play and try to make something happen,” Warren said. “I just tried to keep it simple, especially with a sidearm lefty. I haven’t seen one of those this year so I was just hoping I could make contact.”
The Cougars went on to post a 9-2 win in the nightcap, sweeping both Saturday’s doubleheader and the week’s 4-game series to claim its first GSAC series sweep since a 4-game season series sweep of San Diego Christian in 2009.
“I don’t care who you’re playing, every team has the ability to win games,” Cougar head coach Paul Svagdis said. “That’s why pro baseball plays 162 games a year, because you can play a team 4 times and you really have to grind it out just to win 3. To be able to come out of any series winning all 4 games, I’m obviously pretty excited for the guys.”
After scoring 3 first-inning runs in the opener off Hawks starter Adair Robles, Azusa Pacific went scoreless until the eighth inning as its 3-2 lead turned into a 5-3 deficit. Warren drew a walk that started a 1-out rally in the eighth, and he scored on a bases-loaded hit-batsman that cut the lead to 5-4. San Diego Christian left-handed reliever Kevin Keefe held the 1-run lead into the ninth when he retired the next 2 Cougar hitters with the bases loaded to end the threat.
In the ninth, senior catcher Anthony Delgado drew a leadoff walk from Keefe, who struck out back-to-back hitters to bring Warren to the plate with 2 outs. Warren took the first offering from Keefe for a strike, fouled off the second pitch and took a ball to get to a 1-2 count against the deceptive side-arming southpaw.
“When you work hard together and believe in each other, I think you sit in the dugout no matter who is at the plate and there’s a belief in the dugout,” Svagdis said. “A number of guys have come up big for us in those settings, so I think they believe in each other. They feel that as long as the game hasn’t ended, whoever is up there can come up with a big hit.”
With the Cougars down to their final strike, Warren smashed Keefe’s 1-2 offering over the right-field fence, circling the bases for the first home run of a 3-year college career that began with 2 seasons at Oregon State before joining the Azusa Pacific program this season.
“The moment I hit it I knew it was gone,” Warren said. “It probably didn’t look like it because I was sprinting around the bases, but I was just so excited to get back to home plate.”
Warren was 2-for-4 in the opener, 1 of 5 Cougars with 2 hits in the game. Junior first baseman Johnathan Erb joined Warren as one of the 2-hit performers, and he also went deep, blasting a 2-run opposite-field shot to left-center in the 3-run first inning for his team-leading fifth home run of the season.
“The guys are just staying focused on our team process,” Svagdis said. “They’re a tight-knit group. They started the season that way, and they’re only getting tighter as the season goes. As they win and lose games together, there’s a camaraderie that’s building among this group that’s pretty fun to be around.”
Junior righthander Ben Ruder scattered 7 hits over 8 innings despite allowing 4 runs in the first 4 frames. After surrendering a leadoff single and a walk to start the fifth, Ruder gave up just 1 more hit the rest of the way, keeping his team within striking distance in the late innings. Sophomore righthander Jason Plowman set the Hawks down in order in the top of the ninth, picking up the win when the Cougars walked off with the victory in the bottom of the inning.
“I thought we pitched really well today, and that was important for our pitching staff,” Svagdis said. “San Diego Christian is a very good hitting team. Their offensive numbers are as good as anyone in the league, so I was excited to see our pitchers go out and compete and keep us in some close games today.”
Azusa Pacific never trailed in the nightcap, twice taking 1-run leads with single runs in the second and fourth innings. San Diego Christian tied the game both times in its next at-bat, but the Cougars sent 11 hitters to the plate in a 6-run fifth inning, using 5 hits with a pair of Hawks errors to take an 8-2 lead. Senior centerfielder Alex Ring added his first home run of the year, a solo home run to lead off the sixth that extended the lead to 9-2 and gave him a season-high 9-game hitting streak.
Freshman righthander Jacob Cage fired his second straight complete-game, scattering 2 runs on 4 hits with a pair of strikeouts to collect his third straight win and improve to 6-4 on the year. Delgado, Warren, and sophomore third baseman Jeff West led the 11-hit attack in the nightcap with 2 hits each. West also had 2 hits in the opener, making him 4-for-5 on the day with 2 walks.
The doubleheader sweep gave Azusa Pacific 5 straight wins, matching its longest winning streak of the year when it opened the campaign with 5 consecutive victories. It also pushed the Cougars (22-16, 15-12 GSAC) into sole possession of fourth place in the GSAC standings over Point Loma Nazarene, which fell to 14-13 in conference play by splitting Saturday’s doubleheader with The Master’s.
Azusa Pacific heads into its second-to-last GSAC series of the year when it hosts The Master’s in a pair of weeknight games Wednesday and Thursday next week at 5 p.m. at the Cougar Baseball Complex.