AZUSA, Calif.-- Yesterday Azusa Pacific dropped its opener with Point Loma Nazarene on a rare 13th inning balk-off. Today the NAIA’s 4th ranked Cougars returned the favor with a walk-off grand slam from Trevor Lothrop, capping a five-run 9th inning in the their 7-3 game-one win of Saturday’s doubleheader, before taking the series with a 4-2 victory in game-two to end the regular season.
“I was happy with the way the guys competed this weekend. I challenged them in the middle of the first game. I was really impressed with their willingness and ability to refocus quickly even though they didn’t get results right away,” said head coach Paul Svagdis. “It’s nice to see that we can come back and it’s great to see a guy like Lothrop come off the bench and do that.”
The Cougars, who won all eight of their Golden State Athletic Conference series to claim their 11th GSAC title, continued to be resilient, notching their sixth comeback win in their last seven games. In the bottom of the 9th of game one, with the Sea Lions trying to become the only conference team to take two against Azusa Pacific (41-9; 28-4), Brent Warren hit a one-out double to start the rally.
Then after an intentional walk to Jordan Leyland Johnathan Erb tied the game at 3-3 with a single to right field. The Sea Lions then intentionally walked Matt Kimmel to load the bases setting up Lothrop for his second game-winning home run of the season as he sent a 3-1 offering into the right field net, igniting an explosion from the Cougar bench.
Lothrop finished 1-for-4 with two runs and four RBIS, while Erb registered Azusa Pacific’s only other RBI. The Cougars mustered just two runs (both unearned) and six hits before tacking on five runs and three hits in the 9th. Colby Gurney recorded his 9th win of the season, tossing 1.2 innings of one-hit ball. Cameron Ross and Jesus Del Rosario pitched 2.1 combined innings of hitless relief after starter Ben Ruder gave up three runs in five innings.
Point Loma Nazarene tallied 11 hits, with four players recording two hits in the game compared to the Cougars’ nine hits and one multi-hit performer (Brendan Casey; 2-for-4). Sea Lion starter Justin Lawrence pitched seven innings, give up two unearned runs with five strikeouts while allowing five hits.
In game-two J.C. Aguayo posted his first win of the year after allowing two runs in 5.1 innings. The senior struck out four batters and gave up seven hits while stranding three base runners. Leyland connected on his GSAC-leading 20th home run of the year in the win, while Kimmel went 2-for-4 with one RBI. In the game Point Loma Nazarene struck first with a two-run home run from Lucas DiCiccio in the top of the 2nd.
Azusa Pacific responded in the 4th when Leyland smacked a ball into the net in left center before the Cougars took advantage of a pair of Sea Lion mistakes. After Kimmel and Erb struck out Lothrop walked and Casey singled. Anthony Rodriguez then reached on a throwing error that plated Lothrop to tie the contest at 2-2. In the next at bat with Casey on third base Tyler Garkow threw a wild pitch to give Azusa Pacific a 3-2 advantage.
In the next two innings both teams traded zeroes before Kimmel singled in Tyler Putjenter to make it a 4-2 game before Alan Garcia shut down Point Loma Nazarene in the 9th to add to his Azusa Pacific record save total, giving him 15 on the year.
Putjenter and Kimmel each went 2-for-4 in the win while Joseph Daris and Leyland each scored one run and registered one hit. The doubleheader sweep improved the Cougars’ home record to 23-1 this year and was their 16th straight conference victory on campus. Both of those stats bode well for the Cougars as they play host in both the GSAC Tournament and NAIA Opening round during the next two weeks. But despite Azusa Pacific’s impressive mark at home Svagdis isn’t taking anything for granted.
“There’s not a lot of difference between the 1-seed and 6-seed in this conference. Last year the 4-seed went out and won the conference tournament and the national championship. We have a ton of respect for every team in this league. This is a game of one and two run baseball; you have to play your best every time you play GSAC baseball,” he said.
Azusa Pacific opens the GSAC tournament on Tuesday at 11 a.m. where they’ll face a Westmont team they swept last week. The tournament will run from Tuesday to Friday with games at 11 a.m., 2:15 p.m., and 5:30 p.m. every day except Friday when the championship game will be held at noon.