RIVERSIDE, Calif. -- Azusa Pacific suffered a tough 3-2 defeat to Concordia Thursday morning, sending the sixth-seeded Cougars to the loser’s bracket for a chance to keep their season alive later Thursday afternoon.
The winner of the GSAC Tournament claims the conference’s only remaining automatic berth to the NAIA Baseball National Championship Opening Round. California Baptist has already claimed the GSAC’s other automatic bid by winning the regular-season conference title. Concordia moves into Friday’s GSAC Tournament championship, where it will take on the winner of this afternoon’s final loser’s bracket elimination game between Azusa Pacific and the winner of the noon matchup between Biola and Point Loma Nazarene.
Junior shortstop Anthony Rodriguez had perhaps his finest day at the plate as a Cougar, going 4-for-5 with a triple off Concordia starter Brent Clapper, who fired a complete-game victory for the Eagles. Rodriguez has reached safely in 10 straight games, recording multi-hit games in 6 of his last 8 contests.
Azusa Pacific got 10 hits off Clapper but struck out 9 times and left 10 runners on base, while Concordia got just enough late offense off Cougar starter Ben Ruder, who started the game with 5 shutout frames before surrendering 2 runs in the sixth and the eventual game-winner in the seventh. Ruder scattered those 3 runs on 7 hits, walking just 1 with 5 strikeouts, and sophomore righthander Jason Plowman kept the Cougars within striking distance by leaving the bases loaded in a scoreless eighth inning.
Rodriguez punched a 2-out single through the left side with Azusa Pacific down to its final strike of the game in the ninth, but Clapper retired junior first baseman Johnathan Erb on a sharp lineout to second base to end the game. Erb had an uncharacteristically tough game, striking out 3 times and going hitless in 5 at-bats.
The Cougars put their first 2 batters on base to start the game, and senior catcher Anthony Delgado laced a 1-out single to right. However, junior second baseman Sammy Soyring slipped after rounding third and was thrown out trying to get safely back to the bag for the second out of the inning. Clapper escaped further damage when he induced an inning-ending groundout that left a pair of Cougars on base.
Rodriguez smacked Clapper’s first offering in the third inning into right-center for a leadoff triple, but it appeared he might end up stranded there as Clapper struck out the next 2 Cougar batters. However, junior rightfielder Brent Warren delivered another liner into right-center, plating Rodriguez easily from third base with a 2-out triple of his own for the game’s first run.
Concordia answered for 2 runs in the sixth, scoring the first on Tyler Derby’s 1-out single. After another Eagle hit, Robbie Knowles brought in another run from third base with a successful sacrifice bunt up the first-base line.
In the top of the seventh, Delgado hit a clutch 2-out double down the right-field line with 2 runners on base, scoring Soyring from second base to tie the game at 2-2. Clapper again got out of trouble when Warren flied out to end the inning, and Concordia regained the lead in the bottom of the seventh on a Bryan Nicholson triple with a man on second. Nicholson’s sharp liner down the first base line kicked up the chalk behind first base, just underneath the glove of a diving Erb for Nicholson’s only hit of the game.
With the loss, Azusa Pacific falls to 28-24 overall, while Concordia improves to 34-18 on the year.