ATHERTON, Calif. -- Azusa Pacific rallied from 6 runs down to deliver head coach Paul Svagdis his 400th career coaching victory in thrilling fashion, scoring all 4 of its ninth-inning runs with 2 outs in a 9-6 non-conference road win over Menlo College that snapped the Oaks’ 13-game win streak Tuesday afternoon.
Svagdis, in his 15th year as a collegiate head coach, has recorded over half of his 400 wins in a 6-year stretch that began in 2006. He brought 122 wins to the Cougar program from his first coaching job, a 6-year stint at NCAA Div. III Pomona-Pitzer, and he has recorded 278 victories in 9 seasons at Azusa Pacific.
“I don’t put a lot of stock into anything that I’ve done,” Svagdis said, “but if I have to reflect on winning 400 games, I think of all the players involved in these wins – all the young men at both Pomona-Pitzer and Azusa Pacific who I have been able to coach. This milestone just makes me reflect on them and the impact they have all had on my life.”
Tuesday’s win was strikingly similar to 2 other Cougar victories within the past 2 weeks, as Azusa Pacific scored all 4 runs while down to its final out of the game as it did in walk-off victories over San Diego Christian April 9 and The Master’s on April 13.
Junior shortstop Sammy Soyring and sophomore leftfielder Trevor Lothrop hit back-to-back 1-out singles in the ninth before Menlo reliever Derek Martinez struck out the next batter for the second out of the inning. Needing just 1 more out to close out the Oaks’ 14th straight win, Martinez walked junior shortstop Anthony Rodriguez to load the bases.
The next 2 Cougar batters, freshman catcher Matt Page and senior centerfielder Alex Ring, both reached base on errors that scored 2 runs apiece that gave Azusa Pacific a 9-6 lead heading into the bottom of the ninth. Junior righthander Ben Ruder, the seventh Cougar pitcher in the game, retired the Oaks in order in the bottom of the ninth to pick up the save, his first of the year.
“I’m excited for the guys, because they battled through,” Svagdis said. “They just don’t give up, and they don’t back down from adversity. Whether we win or lose, our guys’ mentality stays the same.”
Menlo, which fell to 29-13-1 on the year but has already clinched the South Division title in the NAIA West Baseball grouping, jumped out to a 6-0 lead through 4 innings as Oaks starting pitcher Chris Mazza tossed 4 shutout frames to start the game. He surrendered a pair of 1-out hits in the first inning but settled down to retire 11 of the next 12 Cougars, striking out the side in the third inning. Menlo’s first baseman Will Pierce hit a 2-run home run in the bottom of the fourth, pushing the lead to 6-0.
However, Lothrop led off the fifth with a triple to straightaway center, which was followed by sophomore third baseman Jeff West’s double off the top of the right-field fence. That cut the lead to 6-1, and after a double play the Cougars’ got another run with a trio of 2-out walks and a hit-batsman that plated another run to cut the lead to 6-2.
An inning later, Soyring and Lothrop got a 3-run inning going with back-to-back hits. Senior Anthony Delgado’s sacrifice fly scored the first of 3 2-out runs in the inning, and Page, Ring, and junior first baseman Johnathan Erb tallied 3 consecutive 2-out singles to cut Menlo’s lead to 6-5 heading into the final 3 frames.
Sophomore Brendan Casey made his first career pitching appearance in the fifth inning, taking over for a trio of Cougar pitchers who surrendered 6 runs on 6 hits and issued 7 free passes on walks or hit-batsmen in the first 4 innings alone. Casey fired 2 scoreless innings, striking out 2 with 2 walks and 2 hits, to pave the way for a trio of Azusa Pacific pitching veterans for the final 3 innings.
Senior righthander Morgan Wynne tossed a scoreless seventh, sophomore Jason Plowman fired a perfect eighth, and Ruder retired the 3 batters he faced in the ninth to become the fifth different Cougar hurler this season to record a save. Plowman picked up the win, improving to 3-1 on the season.
Lothrop led Azusa Pacific’s 12-hit attack with a 3-for-4 performance that included a single, double, triple, walk, and 3 runs scored, and Erb was also 3-for-4 with a walk and an RBI. Soyring and Ring had 2 hits each. Menlo’s offense was paced by catcher Ty Finley, who was 3-for-4, plus Pierce’s 2-for-5 effort that included the only home run of the game, his 2-run fourth-inning shot.
With the win, Azusa Pacific improves to 24-19 overall heading into a crucial Golden State Athletic Conference matchup with Concordia at noon on Friday, April 22, to make up the rained-out second game of the teams’ late-March GSAC series. Concordia sits a game ahead of the Cougars in the conference standings, and a win would clinch the series for Azusa Pacific and give it the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Eagles if the teams finish tied in the final GSAC standings.