AZUSA, Calif. -- Azusa Pacific ended a brief 1-year hiatus from postseason play when the Cougars opened Saturday’s Golden State Athletic Conference doubleheader with a 6-run first inning and a 15-9 win over Westmont that clinched a berth in next week’s GSAC Postseason Tournament.
Azusa Pacific could have moved into the fifth-seed in next week’s conference playoffs with another victory, but an 8-3 defeat to the Warriors left the Cougars at 26-23 overall and 18-18 in GSAC play to finish a game behind fifth-place Point Loma Nazarene in the final GSAC standings. As the sixth seed in the tournament, Azusa Pacific opens postseason play on Tuesday, May 3, with the 9 a.m. opening game of the 6-team, double-elimination GSAC Tournament, taking on GSAC regular-season champion and tournament California Baptist.
“Probably the best part about making the playoffs, at least for the coaching staff, is that we get to hang around these seniors for another week,” Cougar head coach Paul Svagdis said. “We love our team, and we’d certainly like to have some regular-season games back, but we’ve shown we can compete with anybody in the league. It’s just a matter of whether we can do it consistently day after day after day, and hopefully that starts for us next week.”
Freshman leftfielder Matt Kimmel’s first career home run, a 2-run, 2-out liner over the fence in left-center, highlighted the Cougars’ 6-run first-inning outburst in the opener. His blast was 1 of 3 hits in the inning for Azusa Pacific, which put 3 more on base by virtue of a walk and 2 hit batsmen. Senior catcher Anthony Delgado hit a 2-run single to left with 1 out to open the scoring, and senior designated hitter Josh Leite pushed the lead to 3-0 with a 2-out RBI single to right-center.
With runners on first and third, the Cougars executed a double steal that scored senior centerfielder Alex Ring from third after Leite drew a throw when he stole second base. Ring’s run made it a 4-0 game, and Kimmel brought Leite in with his 2-run shot.
“I’m proud of the guys, because we had our backs to the wall after losing that extra-inning game at Westmont earlier in the week,” Svagdis said. “We knew we had to get a win up there, and we did that, and we knew we needed a win today. We obviously wanted to win Game 1, and we were very happy to come out and get that win we needed right away.”
Leite led the way for Azusa Pacific’s 15-run, 18-hit attack with a 4-for-5 performance that included 2 RBIs and 3 runs. Five others tallied multiple hits, including 3-hit efforts from Ring and Kimmel. Junior rightfielder Brent Warren was 2-for-5 with a double and his third home run of the year, a sixth-inning 2-run shot that helped Azusa Pacific post back-to-back 3-run frames that pushed the lead to 13-5.
Westmont twice cut the Cougars’ lead to just 2 runs, doing so first with a 4-run third inning that featured a 2-run double off the bat of designated hitter Timothy Leary. A Delgado leadoff single led to another Azusa Pacific run on Ring’s 1-out single in the bottom of the third, but Westmont pulled to within 7-5 on centerfielder J.J. Turbin’s 1-out RBI double in the fourth inning that preceded the Cougars’ consecutive 3-run innings.
Turbin drove in another run in the eighth, the first of back-to-back 2-run innings for the Warriors, and Azusa Pacific added a pair in the bottom of the eighth on sophomore third baseman Jeff West’s sacrifice fly and a bases-loaded walk to junior first baseman Johnathan Erb.
Junior righthander Colby Gurney scattered a pair of unearned runs on 5 hits over 4 innings in relief of junior starter Ben Ruder, who surrendered 5 runs (2 unearned) with 3 strikeouts in 4 innings. Sophomore Jason Plowman threw the ninth inning, and the trio threw for a combined 6 strikeouts without issuing a single walk.
In the nightcap, Westmont jumped out to an early 5-0 lead with 2 runs in each of the first 2 innings plus another in the top of the third. Turbin drove in 1 of the second-inning runs, and Leary drove in 1 in the first and led off the third with another double that led to the third-inning score that pushed the Warrior lead to 5 runs.
The Cougars got 3 runs back in the bottom of the third, scoring first on a passed ball before freshman catcher Matt Page’s 1-out RBI double and Leite’s 2-out RBI single that cut the lead to 5-3. Just 2 innings later, Westmont pushed the lead back to a 5-run margin with a 3-run frame of its own. A sacrifice bunt scored the first run of the inning, and Jordan Bottenfield brought in the other 2 with a bases-loaded, 1-out single through the left side.
Westmont lefthander Jacob Regalado tossed 2 shutout frames to close out the 8-3 victory for the Warriors, who ended a 16-year stretch of season series losses to Azusa Pacific with this week’s 4-game series split. In addition, Westmont’s 9-run and 8-run performances in Saturday’s doubleheader marked the most runs the Warriors have scored in any game against Azusa Pacific since 2000. Westmont finishes the season at 19-30 overall and 11-25 in GSAC play.
The Cougars were led in the nightcap by junior shortstop Anthony Rodriguez, who was 3-for-3 to extend his hitting streak to 6 games and give him three 3-hit performances in the last 5 games of the regular season. Page was 2-for-2 with a pair of doubles, and Leite was 2-for-3 to finish the season with 3 straight multi-hit performances.