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Playoffs Door Left Open

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April 16, 2011
Joe Reinsch
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SANTA CLARITA, Calif. -- Azusa Pacific entered Saturday’s Golden State Athletic Conference doubleheader with an outside shot at clinching a top-6 finish and along with it a spot in the conference’s 6-team postseason tournament.

However, after suffering a 12-4, 2-0 sweep to the Mustangs, the Cougars will instead have to fight for their postseason life after dropping from fourth place down to sixth in the conference, holding just a 1.5-game lead over The Master’s heading into the final 2 weeks of the regular season.

The bright spots for Azusa Pacific included junior outfielder Brent Warren and freshman righthander Jacob Cage. Cage tossed his third consecutive complete-game, a 3-hit gem in the 7-inning doubleheader nightcap, while Warren extended his hitting streak to 10 games with 6 hits in 8 at-bats in the twinbill.

In the Cougars’ past 15 games, Warren is batting a torrid .490 (24-for-49), scoring 10 runs and driving in 14 of his 18 RBIs on the season. During the stretch, he has recorded 8 multi-hit games with a pair of 4-hit performances, including Saturday’s 4-for-5 effort in the opener. Over that same 15-game stretch, Cage has appeared in 4 games, tossing 3 complete games along with a 4-inning shutout relief stint to post a 3-1 record with a 1.50 ERA. In 24 innings in those outings, Cage has surrendered only 12 hits, and he has posted 16 strikeouts with only 3 walks.

However, their efforts were overshadowed by The Master’s, a team that seemed on the cusp of being eliminated from the postseason after Azusa Pacific’s 8-7 walkoff victory in the series opener on Wednesday. Instead, the Mustangs followed a 6-run ninth-inning rally in Thursday’s game in Azusa with 2 more victories, out-scoring the Cougars 20-4 over the last 17 innings the teams have played.

Chris Talley and Ben Ives each drove in 4 runs in the 12-4 Game 1 win to lead the offense for The Master’s. Talley’s 3-run triple to right-center started a 5-run fourth inning that broke a scoreless tie, and Ives followed with a single up the middle that scored Talley and pushed the lead to 4-0. Freshman leftfielder Matt Kimmel hit a 2-out, 2-run single that cut the lead to 5-2 in the top of the fifth, but the Mustangs answered with a Talley sacrifice fly followed by Ives’ solo home run to left that expanded the lead back to 5 runs at 7-2.

Kimmel wend 3-for-5 in the opener, and his throw from left cut down a Mustang runner at the plate to end the sixth inning. Junior first baseman Johnathan Erb added 2 hits for the Cougars, who tallied 11 hits although none went for extra bases.

In the second game, The Master’s got on the board in the opening frame with Spencer Downs’ RBI double. Azusa Pacific’s first hit came in the second inning, a Warren infield hit, but he was erased on a lineout double play to the pitcher. Three of the Cougars’ 4 hits were countered by double plays, including the game-ending double play with runners at first and third in the seventh.

Downs provided an insurance run with a sixth-inning solo home run to finish 2-for-3 with both of the game’s RBIs, and Mustangs starter A.J. Work took care of the rest with 7 innings of 4-hit shutout ball. Work struck out 6, the first 4 of them looking, and he walked 1.

Following the sweep, Azusa Pacific drops to 23-19 overall, 16-13 in GSAC play, while The Master’s improves to 23-20 overall, 14-16 GSAC. The Cougars visit Menlo College a non-conference matchup next Tuesday in Atherton, Calif., before completing the final game of its GSAC series with Concordia. That makeup of March 25’s rainout is scheduled for Friday, April 22 in Irvine.