AZUSA, Calif.-- It couldn’t have been a better start for the Azusa Pacific baseball team. The Cougars registered 15 hits, blasted four home runs, and made a pair of spectacular plays in the field to take a 12-2 opening season win over Claremont-Mudd-Scripps on Wednesday night. Senior captain Ben Ruder pitched five strong innings to earn the win, while catcher Matt Page went 2-for-5 with a pair of home runs and four RBIs.
"It feels good just to be back at it. Having a break like that, it’s hard to get into game form without playing real games," said Page, who started the game 0-3. "Our pitching was amazing, defense was great, and offense was amazing. Our conference will be a little tougher, but it was a good showing tonight and you’ll definitely see a lot of what we [did] tonight throughout the year.”
Azusa Pacific was solid in all stages of the game. The bats accounted for seven extra base hits, the pitchers allowed just two runs, and the defense committed one harmless error while making multiple highlight reel plays.
The Cougar bats saw eight players tally hits, including five with two or more. Jordan Leyland was tremendous in his debut, going 4-for-4 with two doubles and three runs. Johnathan Erb drove in three runs, all on a deep home run over the wall in left-center field to blow a tight 3-1 game wide open in the sixth inning. Page, Anthony Rodriguez, and Brent Warren, each had two hits in the game, while Warren and Rodriguez each nabbed a stolen base.
In the 8th inning with two runners on and the result almost in hand, Page lifted a ball over the right field wall for his second home run of the night; capping an offensive outburst that the Cougars haven’t seen in an opener since a 24-1 win over Patten in 2009.
“We feel like we’re capable of swinging the bat pretty well. It’s nice for Leyland to have four hits on his first day with the Cougars, and anytime someone knocks it out of the park twice in one game like Page did, it’s a pretty good day,” said head coach Paul Svagdis.
On the defensive side key plays by the Cougars kept the Stags at bay. In the 4th inning with two outs and runners on second and third Sammy Soyring made a great diving stab on a sharply hit grounder between first and second base. The senior calmly got on his feet and threw out Brian Bartlett, saving at least two runs with his glove.
In the following inning the juggernaut, Matt Kimmel, who led off the game with a bomb over the right field net made an equally impressive play in centerfield. The sophomore got a great jump off a liner, sprinted to his left and made a diving catch to rob Sam Katz of extra bases. Then in the 8th, with Claremont threatening with two runners on the Cougars turned an inning ending 6-4-3 double play, ending any chance of a comeback.
“I thought we played pretty well defensively, turning a big double play when we needed it, and Soyring made a nice defensive play in a tight situation, so I was really happy with that,” said Svagdis.
The defensive play was all the Cougar pitching staff would need to give Ruder his first win of the year. The senior righty tossed five innings, striking out five batters without a walk, and gave up just one earned run in the Cougars’ debut. Ruder threw 84 pitches, 57 for strikes, and consistently got ahead in the count.
“I thought the defense was ridiculous. I should have given up two or three more hits, but that defense really helped me out," said Ruder. "I was very grateful for the opportunity to start on opening day. I was just trying to have as much fun as possible and help the team out. It makes it a lot easier to have fun when you’re throwing first pitch strikes,"
“What we liked about Ruder today was how he threw his fastball for strikes on the corners and got ahead of batters early. He started out challenging guys with fastballs and getting ahead, and that was a great sign,” said Svagdis. “He’s a senior and a captain, and giving him the ball on opening day is a big deal. He’s worked hard in the offseason to be more physical than he was last year, and he’s been a great leader for the pitching staff.”
Colby Gurney posted two strong innings in relief, allowing a hit while facing only seven batters. Jason Plowman finished the game on the hill and allowed one run in two innings of work, but it wasn’t easy. In the 8th inning he pitched himself into a jam, loading the bases with no outs. He then forced Michael Erb, brother of Johnathan Erb, into a fielder’s choice, plating one run. Plowman then ended whatever hopes the Stags had of getting back into the game by getting Bartlett to ground into an inning ending double play.
“I thought the pitchers did a good job throwing strikes, giving up just one walk, and that’s what we’ve been preaching with them all the time, so I was really happy with what they did,” said Svagdis.
The Cougars open up a three game series against Cal State San Bernardino on the road tomorrow at 2p.m. at Fiscalani Field, and return to Azusa for a two O'clock start on Friday.