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Comeback Bid Not Enough

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Photo by Ken Williams

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March 22, 2012
Chris Baker
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IRVINE, Calif.--- In the first of a four-game series for GSAC supremacy the NAIA’s 2nd ranked Concordia struck first, handing Azusa Pacific a heart-breaking 8-7 loss with a walk-off base hit after the Cougars battled back from a five-run deficit. The Eagles (20-8; 10-3) got three runs across the plate in the decisive final frame after Azusa Pacific (21-6; 10-2) registered all seven of its runs in the final three innings to bring a 7-5 edge into the bottom of the 9th.

In the 9th with the GSAC’s saves leader, Alan Garcia, on the mound the Cougars had to be feeling good about their odds to extend their conference winning streak to eight games. But the Eagles got two hits and scored three runs to give the closer his first blown save of the season; breaking Azusa Pacific’s 10-game winning streak and moving within a half-game of the first place Cougars in the GSAC standings.

Concordia had 10 hits and led 5-0 after six innings behind Brent Clapper’s arm as Azusa Pacific had only one hit through the first six. But the Cougars got to the starter in the 7th when J.C. Aguayo followed up a Jordan Leyland walk and Johnathan Erb double with a 3-run jack to cut Concordia’s lead to 5-3. Then in the 8th Trevor Lothrop led off with a pinch-hit single and after an Azusa Pacific strikeout Brent Warren registered a base-hit to right field. Leyland scored Lothrop on a line drive to left to knock Clapper out of the game and cut the Eagles’ lead to one run.

Erb continued the rally by loading the bases with the Cougars’ third straight single before Kimmel plated the go-ahead run on a two-RBI fielder’s choice to second base to make it a 6-5 lead in favor of Azusa Pacific. Colby Gurney came in to pitch for Jason Plowman, who tossed a perfect 7th inning of relief, and tabbed another clean frame to hold the Eagles at bay.

In the 9th Matt Page reached on a costly fielding error by Concordia, and eventually scored on Sammy Soyring’s double down the right field line to give the Cougars’ pen a security run.

Then in the 9th with Garcia, who ranks second in the NAIA with 10 saves, walked the first two batters before Kyle Konicek’s double quickly wiped away Azusa Pacific’s two-run lead. Following the double Garcia intentionally walked the next batter before overpowering the Eagles' No. 4 hitter, Chris Kuber, in three pitches. But the Concordia’s next batter ended the game swiftly, singling down the right filed line on the first pitch to give the home team an 8-7 win in the series opener.

Azusa Pacific's staff struck out only four batters and allowed five walks and five extra-base hits. Jacob Cage, the Cougars’ strikeout leader, had his roughest start of the year with five earned runs on eight hits in six innings while striking out only two Eagles. Azusa Pacific’s 1-through-7 batters each recorded a hit in the game, but no Cougar batter had more than one hit in the loss. It was only the second time all year that Azusa Pacific lost a game after bringing a lead into the 9th inning.

The two teams will get back on the field tomorrow for game two with the first pitch scheduled for 3:00 p.m. as the Cougars try to keep Concordia from handing them only their second two-game losing streak of the season.