EL CAJON, Calif.-- In the middle of a busy stretch almost nothing is better than getting your starting pitcher deep into a game. On Saturday the NAIA’s 5th ranked Azusa Pacific had it happen twice in a pair of road wins over San Diego Christian as Ben Ruder went eight innings in a 6-4 victory before Michale Finnigan went the distance with his second straight complete game to lead the Cougars to a 2-0 win in their 6th game in the last five days.
Finnigan allowed just four hits in his third complete game this year to improve to 5-0 with a season-high 11 strikeouts. He faced just 33 batters in the game and stranded the only two that got past second base to help keep the team’s bullpen well rested going into Monday’s double header with the Hawks.
Ruder registered a seven-hit two-earned run performance to elevate his record to 7-0 this season as the Cougars bounced back from a two-game losing streak to win their third straight. Making his effort even more impressive is that the senior went the whole nine innings in last week’s sweep of Vanguard. Alan Garcia relieved Ruder in the 9th, netting his 11th save of the season after striking out two Hawk batters.
Offensively Azusa Pacific (31-8; 19-3) was powered by Jordan Leyland, who hit his 16th and 17th home runs of the season. Leyland went 4-for-8 on the day and drove in two runs while scoring once in each contest. Matt Page went 2-for-3 in game one, recording two RBIs on a go-ahead double down the right field line in the 4th of the opener.
Azusa Pacific had 21 hits on the day and had three players finish with three or more. Matt Kimmel notched a trio of hits in the second game, while Sammy Soyring, Johnathan Erb, Leyland, and Page had two hits apiece.
Anthony Rodriguez posted his first triple of the year, driving in a run in the 6th inning in game one to put the Cougars ahead 4-3, before Soyring plated him on a single with two outs. Brendan Casey tabbed the first RBI of the day, driving in Erb to tie game one in the 4th.
In the first game San Diego Christian (17-24; 9-13) jumped out to a 1-0 lead after Bailey reached on a leadoff error and then scored on a one-out groundout in the bottom of the 1st. The two teams then traded zeroes over the next two frames before the Cougars took over with three in the 4th.
In the inning the Cougars used a two out rally to move ahead after Erb kicked things off with a one-out single. Following a J.C. Aguayo walk and an RBI single from Casey, Page double down the right field line to score two runs for Azusa Pacific, putting the Cougars ahead 3-1. The Hawks, however, fought back with two in the bottom of the frame to knot it at 3-3.
In the 6th Azusa Pacific did it again, scoring two more two-out runs to take back the lead. Aguayo led off the inning with a single, but two straight flyouts dimmed the Cougars’ hopes. Rodriguez then lifted the spirits with an RBI triple to give Azusa Pacific back the lead before Soyring added another to put the Cougars up 5-3.
In the top of the 9th Leyland gave the Cougars an insurance run with his 16th home run of the season before Garcia closed things out with his 11th save despite allowing a run (unearned) to give Azusa Pacific its sixth series-opening victory of the year.
In game two Finnigan gave up a one-out single in the 1st, but erased the hit by picking off the base-runner in the next at bat. The junior lefty didn’t allow another hit until the bottom of the 5th after Aguayo scored on a San Diego Christian error to make it a 1-0 game.
In the top of the 6th Leyland blasted his second home run of the day on a 2-0 offering to lead off the inning, while Finnigan struck out two batters in the bottom of the frame to strand two San Diego Christian base runners. Finnigan registered three multi-strikeout innings and located 86 of his 125 pitches for strikes as the Cougars went on to win 2-0 for their second shutout of the year.
With the sweep Azusa Pacific added to its lead in the GSAC standings over second place Concordia, moving four games up on the Eagles, who split with Westmont on Saturday, with 10 conference games to play. The Cougars have a chance to cut their magic number in the GSAC race down to five games on Monday with a double header in Azusa beginning at noon.