AZUSA, Calif.-- After trailing 7-2 in the 3rd inning they could have folded, knowing they need just two more wins to clinch the Golden State Athletic Conference championship. But they didn’t, fighting back to cut the deficit to one run in the 5th. Then after Westmont pushed the lead to three on a two-run homer in the 6th the NAIA’s 4th ranked Cougars could have easily mailed it in, hoping to get ‘em next time, but Azusa Pacific kept at it, scoring four runs in the bottom of the 7th inning before posting a wild 10-9 win that cut the Cougars’ magic number to one for the conference title on senior night.
“I thought our guys’ mentality was to just grind this game out and see what happens in the end. I think their team did a good job of spreading that lead open a couple times and I think our guys did a good job of not letting that get to them mentally. The guys did a great job attitude wise getting through that,” said head coach Paul Svagdis.
Matt Kimmel led the comeback charge with four RBIs, two on a two-run double off the left field wall to cut Westmont’s lead to 9-8 in the 7th. The sophomore later scored the winning run on a bang-bang play where Matt Winkler reached on a throwing error from the third baseman that pulled the first baseman off the bag. Kimmel finished 4-for-4 on the night.
In the 1st inning Azusa Pacific (36-8; 23-3) took a 2-0 lead on a Johnathan Erb double and a Kimmel single. Then in the 3rd Westmont used an eight-hit, seven-run inning to break it game wide open and knock starting pitcher Jacob Cage out of the game. Cage ended the day with his worst line of the season, giving up seven earned runs on 11 hits in just 2.2 innings of work.
But despite the big lead by the Warriors (19-22-1; 10-16) the Cougars continued to grind out at bats. In the bottom of the 3rd Sammy Soyring, who was one of 11 seniors honored before the game, singled up the middle after Brent Warren walked. Jordan Leyland loaded the bags on a base hit through the left side to set up Erb for a sac fly. Kimmel registered his second RBI of the night in the following at bat on a single to left field to make it a 7-4 contest.
In the 5th Warren and Leyland hit back-to-back singles to open the frame. Then with one out Kimmel hit a chopper in the hole, forcing the shortstop into an errant throw that sailed into right field in an attempt to get Leyland out at second. On the play Warren scored and Leyland advanced to third base. J.C. Aguayo then hit a sac fly to centerfield to make it a one-run game.
But in the top of the 6th the Warriors struck back, tagging Jason Plowman for a two-run home run into the left field net to make it a 9-6 game. Plowman had given up just one hit in 2.1 innings prior to the homer.
In the 7th the Cougars got back-to-back-to-back singles from seniors Warren, Leyland, and Erb to open the inning. Then with the bases loaded Kimmel knocked a ball into the left field wall to plate two runs and cut Westmont’s advantage to one. Brendan Casey’s groundout tied the game at 9-9 before Winkler drove in the winning run on a weak dribbler that turned into a throwing error by the Warriors’ third baseman.
In the 8th Colby Gurney continued to silence Westmont’s bats, putting the Warriors down in order before giving way to Alan Garcia in the 9th. Garcia gave up one walk, but struck out two batters to register his GSAC-leading 12th save of the year. Gurney improved to 8-2 this year and currently paces the team in wins.
Azusa Pacific finished with 13 hits, eight from its seniors, led by Leyland who went 3-for-3 with three runs and two walks. Warren also scored three times, and finished 2-for-4.
“We have a great group of senior leaders. I thought it was great that the parents were here tonight. The parents’ support is outstanding and for them to see their boys play well was just icing on the cake,” said Svagdis.
With the win the Cougars can now clinch their first conference title since 2008 with one more win. Azusa Pacific has six regular season games left, with two against Westmont tomorrow in Santa Barbara and a four-game set with Point Loma Nazarene next week.