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Playoffs In Reach Despite Defeat

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April 27, 2011
Joe Reinsch
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SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -- Azusa Pacific has precious few opportunities left to waste in its pursuit of a Golden State Athletic Conference playoff berth, but the Cougars were granted a reprieve after a 5-4 loss at Westmont when both teams below them in the race for the final postseason bid also lost Wednesday.

Starting pitcher Morgan Wynne gave up only 2 earned runs in a strong 9.2-inning performance, but 3 Azusa Pacific errors paved the way for 3 unearned Westmont runs including a game-tying 2-out score in the 10th inning and the game-winner in the bottom of the 13th. The Cougars also left 12 runners on base, including 4 in extra innings, and a rare unassisted triple play eliminated an early scoring threat that kept the game scoreless.

Junior rightfielder Brent Warren’s second home run of the year, a 2-out solo shot in the top of the 10th, gave the Cougars a 4-3 extra-innings lead, but Westmont’s 10th-inning leadoff hitter reached on an error and scored with 2 outs to extend the game. Another error put the Warriors’ 13th-inning leadoff hitter on base, and a Coby Cress triple gave Westmont the 5-4 walk-off win, the fifth time in Azusa Pacific’s past 10 games a team has won in its final turn at bat.

Still, Azusa Pacific’s 16-17 GSAC record is 1 game better than The Master’s, which suffered a 16-4 defeat at Biola, and the Cougars remain 2 games in front of Vanguard, which lost at home to Concordia, 6-2. The top 6 teams in the final conference standings will participate in the GSAC Postseason Tournament, and with 3 games left in the regular seasons, Azusa Pacific could finish anywhere from fourth to eighth in the league.

Wynne opened the game with 5 shutout frames, recording 15 outs in 15 batters following a Jordan Bottenfield single to the Warriors’ leadoff hitter in the bottom of the first. Westmont escaped an early scoring threat in the top of the third inning, when a hit-batsman and base hit put junior shortstop Anthony Rodriguez and senior centerfielder Alex Ring on first and second with no outs. However, junior second baseman Sammy Soyring lined out to second base for an unassisted triple play that left the game scoreless.

The Cougars built a 2-0 advantage on freshman Dusty Sanderson’s first collegiate home run, a solo shot to lead off the fourth inning, and a sixth-inning 2-out RBI single from another true freshman, leftfielder Matt Kimmel. Westmont rallied for 3 runs in the sixth, starting with an error on a sacrifice bunt attempt after the leadoff hitter was hit by pitch. Another sacrifice bunt pushed runners to second and third, and the Warriors came up with 3 consecutive run-scoring singles to take a 3-2 lead after 6 innings.

In the eighth inning, junior first baseman Johnathan Erb drew a leadoff walk, stole second base, and then took third on a wild pitch to get himself into position to score on senior catcher Anthony Delgado’s groundout. That run tied the game at 3-3, while Wynne regained his rhythm to retire 11 of 12 batters through the end of the ninth inning.

The Cougars put their 11th- and 12th-inning leadoff hitters on base, but a sacrifice and 2 groundouts left senior Josh Leite stranded at third in the 11th inning before Erb’s 12th-inning leadoff double was rendered fruitless on a popup and double-play groundout.

Wynne left the game after Westmont scored the tying run with 2 outs in the bottom of the 10th inning, giving way to sophomore righthander Jason Plowman, who struck out Cress to keep the game going. Plowman recorded a pair of groundouts with the potential winning run at third base in the 11th inning, and he retired the Westmont side in order in the 12th. He struck out a pair in 2.1 innings of relief, and he was charged with the loss to fall to 3-2 on the year.

Warren led the Azusa Pacific offense with a 3-for-6 performance, his sixth multi-hit effort in the past 10 games, and Erb, Ring, and Rodriguez each collected 2 hits for the Cougars. Westmont also had 4 players with multiple hits, with the top 4 hitters in the lineup each going 2-for-5. Cress and J.J. Turbin each drove in a pair, and Turbin scored twice for the Warriors.

Westmont starter Jacob Regalado scattered 3 runs on 7 hits in 7.1 innings, and relievers Mitch Crocker and Pete McCarthy combined to surrender only 1 more run over the final 5.2 innings. Crocker struck out 4 in 3.1 innings of work, and McCarthy was credited with the win after finishing the game with 2.1 shutout frames.

With the loss, Azusa Pacific falls to 24-22 overall, while Westmont improves to 18-27 overall, 10-22 GSAC. The teams continue their 4-game series with another 3 p.m. matchup at Westmont on Thursday, followed by a noon doubleheader Saturday in Azusa.