AZUSA, Calif. -- For the second time in the past 3 games, Azusa Pacific was down to its final strike, and just as he did Saturday with his first collegiate home run, junior outfielder Brent Warren delivered the game-winning 2-out hit for the Cougars in an 8-7 walkoff win over The Master’s Wednesday afternoon.
“The game’s not over until the 27th out, and I think we’re really starting to believe in that,” Warren said. “I had the exact same mindset today that I had Saturday, just to put the ball in play. Something simple is all I wanted, especially with the bases loaded.”
Warren fouled off the first pitch he saw from Mustangs closer James Scott, and he fell behind 0-2 with a swing and miss on the second offering. After taking a pitch for a 1-2 count, the same count he faced when he hit his game-winning home run Saturday, Warren pulled a grounder just under the glove of the second baseman for the game-winning hit.
“You have to prepare yourself for that responsibility no matter where you are in the lineup,” Warren said. “I didn’t think it would come 2 games later, but for our team to win another game in that situation is more of a testament to our team.”
Warren’s third hit of the game capped a 3-run ninth for the Cougars, who entered the ninth inning facing a 7-5 deficit, and it was the only ball hit out of the infield. Scott walked 2 of the first 3 batters in the inning and gave up a 1-out infield single to senior outfielder Josh Leite that scored a run to cut the Mustang lead to 7-6. Two more walks followed his second strikeout of the frame, and on 5 of his pitches in the ninth, he was 1 strike away from finishing the game.
Senior catcher Anthony Delgado fell behind by a 1-2 count but drew 3 consecutive balls to load the bases with 2 outs for junior first baseman Johnathan Erb, and Erb had a 2-2 count before drawing another walk that scored the game-tying run and brought Warren to the plate.
“When you draw a walk in a tight situation like that, that’s a great at-bat as far as I’m concerned,” Cougar head coach Paul Svagdis said. “It takes a lot of selflessness when you’re a hitter in the middle of the lineup to put the game in the hands of the guy behind you, and I am proud of their willingness to put each other first and believe in each other.”
Warren finished the game 3-for-5, while Leite went 4-for-5 with 2 runs, 2 RBIs and a stolen base to lead Azusa Pacific’s 12-hit attack. Delgado went 1-for-4 with his third home run of the year, a third-inning solo shot to the top of the netting behind the left field fence.
“Our philosophy right now is just to take good swings, and the coaching staff is letting us go up there and rip,” Warren said. “It’s nothing complicated, but it seems like things are clicking for us because we’re taking it easy and going up to the plate with a relaxed mindset. Personally, I’m just focusing on seeing the ball and trying to make something happen every time without trying to do too much. Things are falling for me right now, so it’s been fun.”
The Master’s jumped out to an early lead, getting to junior righthander Colby Gurney for 4 runs on 5 hits in the third inning. After the Cougars answered with 3 in the bottom of the third, the Mustangs got their first 2 hitters in the fourth inning on base with an infield hit and a double into the gap in right-center field. That knocked Gurney out of the game, and both runners scored in the inning to push the lead to 6-3, and The Master’s manufactured another run in the sixth to take a 7-3 lead.
“We have a good group of hitters,” said Plowman, who struck out 2 and faced 10 batters to pick up his second win of the season. “If I can keep their lead to a minimum, I know we’re going to come around and score runs. We’ve showed that the last few games, so I just wanted to go in there, throw strikes, and get guys out. I know that once I get that first pitch for a strike, I’m way ahead.”
Sophomore righthander Jason Plowman fired 3 shutout innings to keep the Mustangs within reach, and the Azusa Pacific offense chiseled a pair of 2-out runs out of the deficit in the seventh. Leite and senior centerfielder Alex Ring hit back-to-back RBI singles off righthander Charlie Gillies to pull the Cougars to within 7-5 heading into the final 2 innings.
“As a coaching staff, we feel blessed to have a group of guys that work hard in practice and bring energy to the ballpark every single day,” Svagdis said. “As a group, they are buying into the process of playing 1 game at a time and playing each game 1 pitch at a time.”
The Cougars threatened again in the eighth when Gillies issued a leadoff walk to Erb. However, Scott came into the game and got out of the jam with a fluke double play lineout and a strikeout to preserve the 2-run lead. With Erb on first, Warren drilled a line drive right back up the middle, where it struck Scott on the hip and caromed towards third base. Mustang third baseman Cody Harris snagged the ball in front of third base on the fly, and he doubled off Erb with a throw across the diamond to first base. After taking a couple of warmup tosses to confirm he was fit to continue, Scott struck out sophomore designated hitter Trevor Lothrop to send the game into the ninth with The Master’s holding a 2-run cushion.
Junior southpaw Tim Lu tossed the 3 middle innings, surrendering 1 run on 3 hits to bridge the gap on the mound between Gurney at the start and Plowman at the finish. Each of the Mustangs’ top 4 hitters registered multiple hits, with second baseman Parker Price leading the way with a 3-for-5, 2-RBI performance. Harris, who anchored the unusual eighth-inning double play, was 2-for-3 with 2 RBIs from the No. 9 spot in the lineup for The Master’s.
With the win, Azusa Pacific has matched its longest winning streak of the season with 5 straight victories, improving to 23-16 overall and 16-12 in GSAC play, while the Mustangs fall to 20-20 overall and 11-16 GSAC. The Cougars held on to fourth place in the GSAC standings with the win, staying in front by a half-game ahead of fifth-place Point Loma Nazarene, which swept a doubleheader at home Wednesday against Westmont.
The 4-game GSAC series continues Thursday with a 4 p.m. matchup in Azusa before wrapping up Saturday with a noon doubleheader at The Master’s College in Santa Clarita.