SANTA BARBARA, Calif.-- For the first time since 2008 the Cougars are the Golden State Athletic Conference regular season champions after the NAIA’s 4th ranked Azusa Pacific completed its fourth GSAC sweep of the year with a pair of comeback wins over Westmont on Saturday afternoon. The Cougars registered an 8-5 victory over the Warriors despite trailing 4-1 in the 5th, before winning 5-3 in 10 innings after Jordan Leyland hit a clutch solo home run in the 7th to extend the game. The wins improved Azusa Pacific’s record to 38-8 this year, and to 25-3 in GSAC play to give the Cougars the conference crown with four games still left on the docket.
“It’s a great tribute to the seniors from last year. They did a good job of laying the foundation for work ethic, energy level, and focus for this year’s seniors. This year’s group took over and brought this team to the next level,” said head coach Paul Svagdis who won his third title with the program. “It’s nice to be able to do that and know we’re hosting the GSAC tourney as the 1-seed. I’m just happy for the guys, that was one of our goals this year and I’m really proud of our team.”
Azusa Pacific won its 10th consecutive game and took its fifth straight against Westmont. Leyland hit two home runs on the day to push his GSAC leading total to 19 on the season, while Matt Page came up large with a two-run blast in the top of the 10th of game two before Cameron Ross put the Warriors down in order in the bottom of the frame to register his second win of the season.
In the first game Azusa Pacific struck first with an RBI double from Matt Kimmel in the top of the 1st. Westmont however, fought back to score two in the 3rd on a one-run single and a bases loaded walk. The Warriors then took a 4-1 advantage in the 4th on an RBI single and a one-run error, but the damage could have been much worse as Ben Ruder got David Gabel to fly out to right field with the bases loaded. Ruder tossed 5.2 innings and allowed five earned runs on eight hits, but managed to strand seven base runners and strikeout seven batters.
In the 5th inning Azusa Pacific chipped away with a run after Brent Warren singled to score Page to make it a 4-2 contest just a day after the Cougars overcame a 7-2 deficit. In the 6th Westmont extended its lead to 5-2 when David Pennington tripled with two outs and scored on a single up the middle.
The Cougars cut it to 5-3 in the 7th when Brendan Casey led off with a single up the middle and Page doubled down the right field line. Then in the 8th Azusa Pacific took the lead, thanks in part to a pair of Westmont errors. Leyland opened the inning by reaching on a throwing error before Johnathan Erb plated him on a double to left center. After a Kimmel strikeout, a J.C. Aguayo walk, and a Casey fly out Page registered an RBI single before Aguayo crossed home on a throwing error by Michael Kwan to make it a 6-5 game.
In the top of the 9th Azusa Pacific scored two more runs on RBIs from Erb and Kimmel to give closer Alan Garcia more than enough of a cushion to record his conference-leading 13th save with two strikeouts in the bottom of the 9th.
Erb, Kimmel, and Page each had two RBIs in the win while Sammy Soyring scored a team-high two runs. Jesus Del Rosario picked up the win (1-1) after giving up just one hit in 1.1 innings, while Matt Winkler continued to pitch well, tossing a perfect frame in the 8th to help the Cougars clinch the GSAC title.
“Obviously they’re a tough team. I thought our bullpen did a great job today. Our guys just hung in there and scrapped,” said Svagdis.
In game two Azusa Pacific scored four of its five runs on homers. Leyland went yard twice while Page notched a two-run shot in the 10th. Westmont took a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the 6th before Taylor Martin came in for the save in the top of the 7th. But as has been custom over the last three games Westmont couldn’t hold onto the lead as Leyland took a 2-2 offering and sent it over the wall to push the game to extra innings.
After both teams traded zeroes in the 8th and 9th Ryan Henley extended the 10th with a two-out single before Page hit his seventh home run of the year, giving Azusa Pacific a 5-3 lead. Then in the bottom of the 10th Ross, who entered in the 8th, put the Warriors down in order to lock up the win. Danny Gonzales went 1-for-3 with an RBI, while Leyland finished 3-for-3. Trevor Lothrop went 1-for-5 with a run, while Henley registered three hits and one run in the victory.
After taking four straight from the Warriors Azusa Pacific has just one conference series left, facing off with last place Point Loma Nazarene in a pair of double headers next weekend. With the outright conference championship locked up the Cougars secured the No. 1 seed in the GSAC Postseason Tournament. Azusa Pacific will host the eight-team event beginning on May 1. The last time the Cougars won the GSAC title they advanced all the way to the NAIA World Series back in 2008.