RIVERSIDE, Calif. -- Azusa Pacific scored 4 early runs off Golden State Athletic Conference Pitcher of the Year Taylor Siemens, and the Cougars exploded for 10 more in the middle innings on the California Baptist bullpen as they handed the NAIA’s No. 3-ranked Lancers a 15-7 defeat in the opening game of the GSAC Postseason Tournament.
“We felt that if we could go out and play well, pitch well, and hang in there offensively, we would have a good shot to win,” Cougar head coach Paul Svagdis said.
The victory puts Azusa Pacific into the winner’s bracket of the 6-team, double-elimination tournament, where they will return to action Wednesday at noon with a chance to eliminate the loser of tonight’s matchup between No. 3-seed Fresno Pacific and No. 4-seed Concordia. California Baptist falls into the loser’s bracket, where the Lancers will meet No. 5-seed Point Loma Nazarene in Wednesday’s 9 a.m. game.
“When you know the last 2 weeks of the season is a push just to get into the playoffs, every game is pretty intense in your mind,” said Svagdis, whose Cougars clinched their sixth-place position and the last GSAC postseason berth with Saturday’s doubleheader split against Westmont. “I don’t think we walked into the ballpark thinking any differently than we have the past 2 weeks. At this point, our focus is on the conference tournament and playing well every day. Hopefully we can go out and do that tomorrow, as well.”
Five different hitters in the Azusa Pacific lineup tallied multiple hits, and senior righthander Morgan Wynne held California Baptist scoreless until the sixth inning. By that point, the Cougars had built a 14-0 lead, and the Cougars nearly put the GSAC Tournament’s first-round 10-run rule into effect in both the seventh and eighth innings. However, California Baptist got 2-out hits in both frames to trim the lead back to single digits and extend the game to a full 9 innings.
“California Baptist is a great team, but we had beaten them during the year and knew we could beat them again,” said Wynne, whose first win of the year came when he threw 7 strong innings in a 5-1 win over the Lancers on March 10. “We came out really aggressive and battled the whole game. I had the support of the defense, and all that hitting behind me made it a lot easier to pitch.”
Seven of Azusa Pacific’s 15 runs were unearned, including the first 2 off Siemens, a 6-foot-5 lefthander who brought a 9-1 record and a 2.87 ERA into Tuesday’s playoff opener. Senior designated hitter Josh Leite reached on a 1-out bunt single, and freshman third baseman Sam Murphy drew a 2-out walk. Junior second baseman Sammy Soyring’s routine grounder to third should have ended the inning, but Kevin Odom’s throw pulled first baseman Josh Manzano off the bag at first to load the bases. Junior shortstop Anthony Rodriguez punched the very next pitch through the right side for a 2-run single, giving the Cougars the early 2-0 lead.
“Our middle of the lineup hit really well today,” Svagdis said. “We got some guys on base in front of them, and they did really well driving in guys from scoring position. When you put the ball in play and you have good at-bats, that forces the defense to make some plays behind them.”
Azusa Pacific scored single runs in the third and fourth innings, cashing in leadoff hits in both situations. Junior first baseman Johnathan Erb led off the third with a single and scored on senior All-GSAC catcher Anthony Delgado’s double down the right-field line to push the lead to 3-0. In the fourth inning, Murphy led off with a double, moved to third on a sacrifice bunt and later scored on a wild pitch to give the Cougars a 4-0 advantage over Siemens and the Lancers.
The Cougars sent 10 batters to the plate in a 5-run fifth inning, scoring 5 runs off righthander Drew Madrigal, who was making his first appearance for California Baptist in nearly 2 months as he returns from an unspecified injury. That was followed by another 5-run outburst in the sixth, pushing the lead to 14-0 before the Lancers offense finally broke through for a pair of runs in the bottom of the sixth.
Matt Marnati cut the lead to 14-3 in the bottom of the seventh before Wynne recorded consecutive groundouts that put Azusa Pacific 1 out away from closing out a 10-run rule victory, but a hit-batsman was followed by a 2-out, 2-run single from designated hitter Jake Johnson that cut the lead to 14-5 and kept the game going. The Cougars added 1 more in the eighth on an RBI single from junior All-GSAC outfielder Brent Warren, his fourth RBI of the game, but the Lancers got another 2-run, 2-out hit in the bottom of the eighth, cutting the lead to the final 8-run margin at 15-7 on Brian Sharp’s double to center.
Warren struck out all 3 times he faced Siemens, but he had 3 hits in his last 3 at-bats with 4 RBIs, and he was joined with 3-hit efforts by Leite and Erb. Rodriguez went 2-for-5 with 2 runs and 3 RBIs, and Delgado reached safely in all 6 of his plate appearances, going 2-for-2 with a double and 4 walks.
“I felt really comfortable coming into this week,” said Delgado, who was hitless twice in last week’s 4-game series with Westmont, although did draw 5 walks in that 4-game set. “I struggled a little bit last week, but I went back to the process and worked hard in the cages until I got back to that comfortable feeling.”
Wynne picked up the win, improving to 4-3 on the year, following a 9.2-inning performance in a 13-inning loss last week at Westmont with today’s 7-inning, 6-strikeout effort. After throwing 5 shutout frames to start the game, he gave up 5 runs, 4 hits, and 2 walks in his final 2 innings. Junior righthander Colby Gurney gave up 2 runs on 3 hits with 1 strikeout in the eighth inning, and sophomore righthander Jason Plowman closed out the victory with a scoreless ninth.
The Lancers were led by Jake Johnson’s 4-for-4, 3-RBI effort, and Marnati and Manzano added 2 hits each for California Baptist. Siemens suffered just his second loss of the year, dropping to 9-2, giving up 4 runs (2 earned) on 7 hits with 3 walks and 3 strikeouts.
With the win, Azusa Pacific improves to 27-23 on the season, while California Baptist falls to 41-13.