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March 9, 2012
Chris Baker
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AZUSA, Calif.-- Jordan Leyland may be putting together one of Azusa Pacific’s best seasons in years, but today the Cougars proved you can’t slow them down by simply avoiding him. After Brent Warren doubled with one out in the bottom of the 1st the Sunbirds opted to intentionally walk Leyland to face Johnathan Erb. The move backfired as Erb drilled a double down the right field line to score Warren for Azusa Pacific’s first run of the game.

Then following another Warren double in the bottom of the 2nd Fresno Pacific dared Erb to beat them for a second time by intentionally walking Leyland again. This time Erb really made them pay, blasting a three-run bomb over the right field wall to give Azusa Pacific (16-5, 5-1) a 6-1 advantage before going on to post a 21-5 win over the Sunbirds (13-10, 4-6) in game two of the four game series.

“We put Erb in that position because we have a lot of confidence in his ability to protect Jordan,” said head coach Paul Svagdis. “Teams try to either pitch around Jordan to get him to chase or intentionally walk him, but he’s done an excellent job of putting the game in Erb’s hands. That’s going to make Jordan a better hitter and Erb a better hitter.”

Erb finished the day with five RBIs after going 3-for-4 with two extra base hits. Leyland, who didn’t see a pitch until his third plate appearance, still managed to get three hits and two RBIs on top of his game-high four runs.

Matt Kimmel followed up last night’s 4-for-5 performance with a home run and four RBIs on 2-for-3 hitting, while Warren had three extra base hits and hit one of the team’s four home runs. The Cougars finished with 19 hits and a season-high 21 runs and struck out only four times in 41 at bats.

J.C. Aguayo drove in two runs and registered three hits, while Brendan Casey added to the rout with a home run and two hits. Azusa Pacific scored at least once against each of the Sunbirds’ seven pitchers and put up a run in all but one frame (3rd).

“Today I liked our at bats. We did a good job of sticking with a hitting plan,” said Svagdis. “All nine guys are staying focused and when [everyone] does that good things will happen.

Almost lost in the offensive outburst was another gem from pitcher Zach Hedges. The freshman continued to impress by tossing the first complete game of his career. He allowed five runs (four earned) with three of those coming in the 9th inning. He threw 110 pitches, and had no issues with control, throwing 73 strikes and walking only one batter. Hedges also trusted his defense as only two of his 27 outs came by way of the strikeout.

“I was real excited for Zach. For him to get the unanimous nod from the coaching staff to pitch game two in a conference series says a lot about his toughness mentally,” said Svagdis. “I was really proud of his composure and his ability throw the ball in the strike zone all nine innings.”

Hedges allowed one run to cross in the 1st inning despite recording just eight pitches, and faced just 14 batters until the 5th inningwhere the Sunbirds put up their second rn of the day. But Azusa Pacific followed Fresno Pacific’s 5th frame run with a 7-spot in the bottom of the inning.

Aguayo opened things up with a single to right center while Casey and Matt Page walked to load the bases. Anthony Rodriguez drove in two runs on a double down the left field line. Sammy Soyring loaded the bases again after getting hit by a pitch and Leyland sent two more runners in on a single to center before Erb notched his fifth RBI of the game with a base up the middle. Kimmel hit a sacrifice fly to left field and Rodriguez capped the inning with another RBI on his second hit of the 5th.

The Cougars added four runs in the 8th to push the lead to 21-2 before Fresno Pacific finally got to Hedges with three runs and four hits to leave Azusa with something positive, albeit it small, to build on.

Through the first two contests the Cougars have outscored the Sunbirds 35-11 and the teams continue the series with a double header tomorrow in Fresno with the first pitch of game one slated for 11 a.m.