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Loss Opens The Playoff Push

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April 22, 2011
Joe Reinsch
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IRVINE, Calif. -- Junior first baseman Johnathan Erb’s 2-run sixth-inning home run broke up a scoreless pitcher’s duel, but Concordia tied it in the bottom of the sixth and picked up a 3-2 victory on John Hill’s walk-off RBI single to right with 1 out in the bottom of the ninth inning.

Freshman righthander Jacob Cage went the distance for his fifth complete-game of the season, scattering 3 runs on 12 Eagle hits with 4 strikeouts. However, Concordia’s sophomore ace Blake Harrison matched Cage’s effort by turning in a 2-run, 5-hit complete-game performance for the victory. Harrison retired the final 10 Cougar batters after Erb’s 2-run shot.

“I had all my pitches working today, and when I got hit it was because the ball was up in the zone,” Cage said. “I just had to keep the ball down and try to make them put it in play, because I believe in myself and I believe in my teammates.”

Edgar Guillen started the Eagles’ ninth-inning rally with a leadoff single to right, and Matt Ivanoff reached safely on a mishandled throw at first base when he laid down a sacrifice bunt that moved the runner into scoring position. Another sacrifice bunt attempt was fielded by Cage, who fired to third to erase the lead runner, but Hill knocked Cage’s first pitch into right field, scoring Ivanoff from second base for the walk-off victory.

“Concordia did a great job hitting today, and they executed when they needed to,” Cougar head coach Paul Svagdis said. “Cage pitched great for us, but we have to do a better job of scoring runs so we can put him in position to win a game like that when he pitches so well for us.”

With the win, Concordia (29-16 overall) improved to 18-14 in GSAC play, giving the Eagles a 2-game cushion over Azusa Pacific (24-20 overall and 16-16 GSAC) heading into the final 4-game series of conference play next week. The Cougars hold a 1-game margin over The Master’s for the sixth and final GSAC playoff spot, and 5 teams within 4 games of each other head into the final week battling for the last 3 playoff positions.

Both starters made it through 5 innings with the shutout intact until Erb’s 2-run, 2-out shot in the top of the sixth, which was made possible by junior Brent Warren beating out an infield single with 2 outs to bring Erb to the plate. The Cougars’ home run leader slammed Harrison’s 1-0 offering over the right-field fence, giving Azusa Pacific a 2-0 lead.

The margin didn’t last long, as Concordia answered with 2 runs on 3 hits in the bottom of the sixth. After a leadoff groundout, Cage surrendered a 1-out single followed by a 4-pitch walk to Hill. Ryan Sheeks followed with a single through the left side that scored 1 run, and he broke up a potential double play at second base that allowed Shayne O’Connell to hit a slow roller to shortstop for a run-scoring infield hit that tied the game at 2-2.

Cage pitched out of trouble in the seventh and eighth innings, keeping a leadoff triple in the seventh from scoring before escaping a 1-out bases-loaded jam in the eighth without allowing a run. After Robbie Knowles led off the seventh with a triple to right-center, Cage held Knowles at third on Edgar Guillen’s bunt for the first out. Knowles broke for home on Matt Ivanoff’s chopper to third baseman Jeff West, who threw home to get Knowles caught in a rundown for the second out. Ivanoff advanced to second during the 4-throw rundown, and he took third base on a wild pitch, but he was stranded there when Cage induced an inning-ending groundout.

In the eighth, Concordia got consecutive 1-out singles followed by an error on a chopper to second that should have resulted in the second out and potentially could have been a double-play grounder. However, the ball got away from junior second baseman Sammy Soyring, loading the bases with 1 out for the Eagles. Cage fielded a Sheeks bunt and flipped it home for the second out of the frame, and he left the bases loaded with another inning-ending groundout to shortstop.

Before taking on Westmont in next week’s 4-game GSAC series, Azusa Pacific visits Cal State San Marcos in non-conference action at 3 p.m. on Monday, April 25. The Cougars play Westmont in Santa Barbara on Wednesday and Thursday before wrapping up the regular season with a noon doubleheader on Saturday, April 30.