AZUSA, Calif.-- There isn’t a much better way to open the conference season. Azusa Pacific scored a season-high 16 runs against the NAIA’s No. 10-ranked Biola in the GSAC opener on Thursday night as the Cougars, wearing their ‘throwback’ orange jerseys, improved to 5-1 at home this season. The two teams combined for 23 runs, 38 hits, and six home runs in the game while 18 different player recorded a hit on the night.
Azusa Pacific (8-4, 1-0) posted its biggest inning in the 2nd when the Cougars broke the game wide open with seven runs after batting around. Azusa Pacific scored six of the runs with two outs after having eight straight players reach base; chasing out the Eagles’ (6-8, 0-1) Jeff Grijalva on Brendan Casey’s second hit of the frame.
The Cougar offense registered a season-high 23 hits, seven extra-base hits, and three home runs all while striking out just five times. 10 Azusa Pacific players tallied hits in the game, led by Jordan Leyland, who extended his hitting streak to 12 games with his 4-for-5, four-RBI performance. Leyland hit his second home run of the season and his eighth double, while scoring three times. Matt Kimmel knocked in four runs, going 3-for-4 with two doubles and a homer, while Matt Page finished with three hits and three RBIs.
“It’s great to open up like we did today. I was really happy with the offense,” said head coach Paul Svagdis. “As a group it was the first time that everyone tried to stay focused on a good solid hitting plan and process,”
And while the offense was on fire, the Cougars got a great performance from Jacob Cage on the hill. In eight innings of work the right-hander allowed just two earned runs and struck out 11 batters to go with no walks. Cage allowed 11 hits, but got the Biola bats to leave 11 runners on base as he pitched extremely well in tight situations. Cage threw 83 strikes on 120 pitches to register his second win of the year.
“They had 11 hits on me and I need to do a better job [in that area]. Early on I got the ball up in the zone and that’s where they got their hits,” said Cage. “But I started bearing down and pitching at the knees and let my defense do the work.”
Colby Gurney pitched one perfect inning, relieving Jason Plowman, who allowed five runs on four hits in the top of the 9th. Prior to the final frame Biola went scoreless from the 5th inning on, while the Cougars did the majority of their damage in the first three innings.
Cage opened the game with a strikeout before getting Biola to groundout of the inning with two runners on. Sammy Soyring led off with a walk and then advanced to second base on a passed ball. After Tyler Putjenter struck out looking Leyland battled back from an 0-2 hole to double off the right field wall; plating Soyring for the game’s first run. Johnathan Erb followed that up with a bomb into the right field net, giving Azusa Pacific a quick 3-1 lead.
The Eagles responded with a homer by Wesley Cottier, but Cage dialed in after that. He got two Eagles to strikeout looking and then got a great play by Putjenter in shallow left center on a weak fly ball in no man’s land to end the inning.
The 2nd inning saw the Cougars string together its biggest inning of the season as they got seven hits and two walks. Casey led off with a single up the middle and Anthony Rodriguez sacrificed him over on a bunt. Casey reached third base on a groundout by Soyring before Putjenter walked. Leyland then cleared the bases on a screaming line drive over the wall in right-centerfield to make it 6-1 Azusa Pacific. With Erb on third after a walk and a Brent Warren single Kimmel doubled off the left field wall to notch the team’s fourth run if the inning. A Matt Page single plated two more runs, while Casey pushed Grijalva out of the game with his second single of the 2nd, but the Cougars would tack on one last run on a base hit up the middle by Rodriguez.
In the top of the 3rd Biola got runners on second and third with no outs, but Cage got the next two batters to go down swinging, and Azusa Pacific ended the inning on a great play by Casey as he jumped to snare a high one-hopper before throwing out Cottier at first.
In the bottom of the inning Leyland and Warren reached on singles, setting up Kimmel for a three-run home run to put the Cougars ahead 13-1 heading into the 4th inning. Biola led off the 4th with its second homer, this time from Michael Annunziata, but the Eagles wouldn’t score again until the 9th inning.
In the top of the 5th the Eagles loaded the bases with nobody out, but Cage again pitched well in a jam. He got two straight strikeouts and ended the inning with a harmless groundout to first base as Biola stranded 9 runners in the first five innings.
“I thought when the guys got on base he made them earn it. That was huge for us, when you get a big lead after two they can creep back in it just like we did last week,” said Svagdis.
The Eagles were able to put five more runs on the scoreboard in the top of the 9th inning, but at that point the result was a mere formality.
With the win the Cougars improve to 8-4, having won six-of-seven games, while Biola dropped its seventh in its last nine. The two teams will square off again tomorrow at 5 p.m. at the Cougar Baseball Complex before the series shifts to Biola for a double header on Saturday starting at noon.