COSTA MESA, Calif.-- Azusa Pacific has proven it can beat anyone with its bats, but on Saturday the Cougars made a different kind of statement, as the NAIA’s 5th ranked team posted a pair of wins on behind two pitching gems to finish off their four-game sweep of Vanguard, improving to 17-2 in GSAC play. Azusa Pacific (28-6) got its second straight complete game from senior Ben Ruder to open with a 10-1 win, before Michael Finnigan registered his second complete game of the year in the finale.
The victories sealed Azusa Pacific’s fifth consecutive Golden State Athletic Conference series win, and was the Cougars’ second four-game sweep of the year as they kept their lead atop the GSAC standings at 3.5 games.
“It’s obviously everyone’s goal to go out and win a series. We were fortunate enough to come out on top,” said head coach Paul Svagdis. “Our starting pitching was huge. To have Ruder go out and throw nine innings and to have Finnigan go out and throw a complete game was a big boost for us.”
And while the pitching took a front seat, Saturday’s highlights weren’t just from the mound. A day removed from their six-home run performance the Cougars put another 17 runs on the scoreboard behind a balanced attack, led Jordan Leyland’s two home runs. Leyland, who ranks No. 1 in the conference in home runs and RBIs, hit his 14th and 15th of the season in the second game of today’s double header, while J.C. Aguayo continued his tear with his second home run in as many days.
Eight Cougars finished with RBIs in the double header, with Leyland, Aguayo, and Sammy Soyring each registering three.
In game one Ruder notched his sixth win of the season (6-0) with a nine-inning four-hit performance. The senior, who went the distance in last Saturday’s defeat of Concordia, struck out six Lions and didn’t allow the home team to get on the scoreboard until the 9th inning. Ruder also went through 17 batters without giving up a hit after he let the second player he faced to reach on a single.
“Ruder did a great job. That Saturday morning game is always a big game for a number of reasons,” said Svagdis. “For him to go a complete game saved our bullpen and with our heavy week coming up it was great.”
And in true Cougar form the bats came through for Azusa Pacific with 10 runs and 16 hits after last night’s 20-hit, six home run performance. Three players finished with multiple RBIs, led by Matt Kimmel’s 3-for-6, two-double, two-RBI effort. Johnathan Erb and Aguayo went 2-for-4 with two RBIs in the win, while Brent Warren extended his hitting streak to 13 games after going 2-for-4 and driving in a run.
After scoring runs in the 2nd and 3rd Azusa Pacific used a four-run 4th to break the game wide open. Erb scored a Cougar on a sac fly before Kimmel plated another on an RBI double. Aguayo finished the inning off with a two-run single as the Cougars went ahead 6-0 before clinching the series with a 10-1 win.
In game two Finnigan settled down after a shaky start. He let Vanguard get one run across on three hits in the first inning, but gave up just one hit over the next six frames to register his fourth win of the season (4-0). The junior improved his team-leading ERA to 2.63 in the win, and walked just one Lion batter.
“It was great. He did a good job throwing strikes,” said Svagdis. “I thought we did real well defensively. Our infield and outfield made some nice plays.”
On the other side Leyland powered the Cougars’ offense, going 3-for-4 while blasting two home runs. The senior first baseman capped a four-run third inning with a two-run shot, and sealed the Cougars’ scoring with a solo bomb in the top of the 7th. Soyring, who is usually setting the table for the meat of Azusa Pacific’s order, drove in two runs in the game, both on a go-ahead double in the 4th inning.
Trevor Lothrop finished the game 1-for-1 with an RBI, while Anthony Rodriguez recorded a stolen base and a run in the Cougars’ 11th road win of the year.
With today’s wins the Cougars matched last season’s total of 28 with 16 games still left on the docket. Concordia, Azusa Pacific’s closest competition for the conference title, also posted a sweep this week, defeating Biola in four straight games to remain 3.5 games back of the Cougars.
Azusa Pacific will have a chance to push their lead over the Eagles to four on Monday when they face The Master’s in a rain-delayed makeup before facing off against the Los Angeles Dodgers’ single-A affiliate, Rancho Cucamonga Quakes on Tuesday at 5:15.