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Photo by Holly Magnuson
Brent Warren's 8th inning grand slam extended the Cougars lead over Vanguard to five runs.

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March 29, 2012
Chris Baker
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AZUSA, Calif.--What was once a battle quickly turned into a rout as the NAIA’s No. 5 ranked Azusa Pacific used a late rally to move past Vanguard with an 11-5 series opening win on Thursday night. The Cougars, who fell behind 5-3 in the top of the 8th, responded in the bottom of the frame with eight runs, four of which came via a Brent Warren grand slam, to post their 11th straight home win of the year.

After Vanguard’s (14-12, 5-10) Brandon Arroyo hit a two-run homer to break the 3-3 tie with two outs in the 8th Azusa Pacific (25-6, 14-2) registered four straight hits, and tied the contest at 5-5 on J.C. Aguayo’s two-run double to left center. A few batters later the Cougars loaded the bases when Matt Page reached on catcher’s interference before Ryan Henley scored on a wild pitch to take a 6-5 lead.

Following a Danny Gonzales walk to load the bags Warren took a 1-0 offering and drilled it into the right field net to all but seal Azusa Pacific’s 23rd win in its last 26 games. The Cougars added another run on Johnathan Erb’s second double of the inning before Colby Gurney, who was the beneficiary of the rally, closed it with his 7th win of the year.

“They’re all big. It’s no bigger than any other win. We faced a real good pitcher today and he shut us down most of the game. I thought our guys did a good job battling,” said head coach Paul Svagdis. “What started it was Erb’s double. He had a great day and that hit really got the energy going for us. And for Warren to come up in that situation to extend it was big. He did a great job, took a good swing and put the ball in play like he’s supposed to and good things happened for him.”

Warren finished with one hit and four RBIs, while Erb went 4-for-5 with two RBIs and tied the game at 2-2 with his fifth home run of the season in the 3rd inning.

Vanguard’s Gabriel Garcia held the Golden State Athletic Conference’s most productive offense in check through seven innings, allowing three earned runs on eight hits before getting chased away without recording an out in the 8th; which has become the Cougars’ most dangerous inning. Azusa Pacific’s 41 runs in 8th innings this year are seven runs more than the next closest frame as late-game runs are becoming a trademark for this lineup.

“We do such a good job of having a team concept of grinding guys down. Every game it seems like we’re struggling early on, but we’re just trying to work the pitcher, work at bats,” said Warren, who extended his hitting streak to a 12 games. “My teammates do such a good job wearing down pitchers. Sammy Soyring does a real good job of taking pitches so we can see better pitches.”

Matt Kimmel, fresh off earning GSAC Player of the Week honors, went 3-for-4 with two runs, while Aguayo drove in two runs on three hits.

Azusa Pacific registered 14 hits in the win as Brendan Casey finished with two base knocks and one run, while Anthony Rodriguez drove in one run after batting 1-for-3 from the plate. Matt Winkler picked up his first RBI of the year when he tied the game after reaching on a pinch-hit fielder's choice to 3rd base in the 6th inning.

Jacob Cage had a strong performance after a shaky start. The sophomore struck out six and gave up three earned runs in 7.1 innings to come away with the no decision. He allowed the Lions to notch a run in each of the first two innings on four hits, but held Vanguard to one run and three hits over the next five innings.

“I thought Cage did a really good job of getting us a quality start. He settled down and competed and I was really proud of how he did,” said Svagdis.

Jesus Del Roasario relieved Cage in the 8th and got the only batter he faced to fly out on a great defensive play by Erb, who chased down a ball to deep left center to snag the out on a dead run. Gurney took over for Del Rosario with the game tied at 3-3, but after giving up a hit got tagged for a home run to right center to put Azusa Pacific behind 5-3. The senior reliever, however, came back in the 9th to pitch a 1-2-3 inning to improve to 7-1 on the year.

Tomorrow night the Cougars will have a shot to win their 16th home game of the season after tying last year’s mark with tonight’s victory. The first pitch is scheduled for 5 p.m.