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Feeling Extra Grand

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Photo by Holly Magnuson
Matt Kimmel's grand slam in the 13th inning proved to be the difference maker in Azusa Pacific's 10-6 win over Concordia.

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March 23, 2012
Chris Baker
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IRVINE, Calif.-- Yesterday Concordia sent the Cougars home with a walk-off 8-7 win after scoring three runs in the bottom of the 9th. Today Azusa Pacific returned the favor as Matt Kimmel’s grand slam capped a five-run 13th inning that lifted the Cougars to a 10-6 extra-inning win over the NAIA’s 2nd raked Eagles in a battle between the Golden State Athletic Conference’s top two teams.

After blowing a 9th inning lead for the second day in a row Azusa Pacific (22-6; 11-2) traded zeroes with Concordia (20-9; 10-4) for three straight innings behind the arm of Colby Gurney who tossed 3.2 frames and pitched his way out of a major jam with runners on the corners and one out in the bottom of the 12th to keep the game alive before recording his team-leading 6th win of the season.

The Cougars finished with 14 hits in the game, none bigger than Kimmel’s grand slam following Joseph Daris’ go ahead single with the bases loaded. Kimmel went 4-for-5 in the game while Daris, who entered the game in the 8th, recorded two hits and one RBI. For the third straight time Azusa Pacific did most of its damage after the 6th inning, scoring three runs between the 7th and 8th to come back from a 4-2 deficit.

Concordia’s Thomas Hoenshell, who came into today with 23 strikeouts and just three walks, cut down seven Cougar hitters in seven innings of work. But after keeping Azusa Pacific’s bats quiet with two runs and five hits through six innings Brent Warren connected on a two-run home run to right field to knot the contest at 4-4 in the 7th before Trevor Lothrop put the Cougars ahead with a pinch hit single up the middle to score Daris in the 8th.

“Both of their starters have pitched great and did a good job of making us work harder offensively,” said head coach Paul Svagdis. “We keep preaching 27 outs, so we just try to do our best to grind pitchers down. Hopefully it means they’re staying focused on the process.”

With Azusa Pacific holding a 5-4 lead in the bottom of the 9th Ryan Scornaenchi hit a game-tying home run off Jason Plowman to hand the Cougars their second straight blown save. Plowman had pitched effectively until the misstep, allowing just one hit in two innings of relief.

After the Eagles got a double Gurney took the mound and eventually loaded the bases on two straight walks with two outs. But a harmless grounder to short ended the threat and extended the game to extra innings. Neither team threatened until the 12th when Azusa Pacific opened with consecutive base hits by Daris and Kimmel. Both runners advanced on J.C. Aguayo’s sacrifice bunt, but a popup and a groundout quickly stop the rally.

In the bottom of the frame Gurney gave up a lead off hit to Matt Palmer, who reached second on a sacrifice bunt. Chris Lemus’ single to left field nearly ended the game, but Concordia opted to hold Palmer on third. Gurney then buckled down and got a huge out on a popup to the catcher before getting out of the jam with a routine fly to left.

In the top of the 13th Anthony Rodriguez registered a lead off single before Sammy Soyring reached on a two-base throwing error by the pitcher to put runners on second and third with no outs. After a Warren strikeout Concordia chose to intentionally walk Jordan Leyland to load the bags. Daris then gave the Cougars a 6-5 edge on a single to left, just prior to Kimmel’s game-breaking grand slam.

In the bottom of the 13th Azusa Pacific stayed with Gurney until he loaded the bases with one out. Cameron Ross came in for the Cougars and after allowing the first batter to reach on a fielder’s choice he got Palmer to strikeout and Keith Murakami to line out for his first save of the season as Azusa Pacific came away with a 10-6 win.

“Gurney pitched his tail off for us. It was huge to have him trade zeroes. We felt like it was his game to lose in the 13th,” said Savgdis.

Zach Hedges started on the bump, giving up three earned runs on six hits in 5.2 innings of work. Jesus Del Rosario relieved him in the 6th and struck out two of the three batters he faced before giving way to Plowman.

The Azusa Pacific bats were hit and miss all day, striking out 12 times to go with 14 hits, four for extra bases. Johnathan Erb recorded an RBI after going 2-for-5, while Rodriguez scored a game-high three runs to go with his two hits. Both teams were sloppy in the field, combining for five errors.

With the win Azusa Pacific moved to 11-2 in the GSAC, good for a game and a half lead over Concordia atop the conference standings. The two teams will get back at it tomorrow as the Eagles have a chance to take the early GSAC lead with a sweep, while Azusa Pacific has an opportunity to separate itself from the pack as no other team is within three games of first place. The first pitch tomorrow is slated for noon.