AZUSA, Calif.-- The Cougars responded well with their backs against the wall, almost literally. With Fresno Pacific rallying to erase a 7-0 deficit Tyler Putjenter ended Sunbirds’ five-run 8th inning with a leaping catch at the left field wall to help the NAIA’s 4th ranked Azusa Pacific hold on for a 9-5 win in the first elimination game of the Golden State Athletic Conference tournament. The Cougars, who struggled from the plate in Tuesday’s loss to Westmont, put nine runs up on the board and shut the Sunbirds’ offense down in all but one inning behind another strong start from Jacob Cage.
“I thought the guys did a great job. It’s always great to have an opportunity to face a little adversity and see how the guys respond. They did a great job today,” said head coach Paul Svagdis. “Cage threw seven strong and we tried to run him out there in the 8th and he got a little tired. I was really proud of the way he pitched. He had his back against the wall and he came out and gave us seven shutout innings.”
Cage held Fresno Pacific (26-27) scoreless through seven innings and struck out five batters with no walks. He gave up just five hits before Fresno Pacific got to him for three runs and three hits in the 8th to record his eighth win of the season (8-1). And while Cage held opposing bats down for the majority of the day the Cougars (43-9) got to the Sunbirds’ pitchers early and often. Azusa Pacific (42-10) scored in all but two frames, taking a 7-0 lead before Fresno Pacific rallied for five in the 7th. Brent Warren drove in three runs on a double and home run, while lead-off hitter Sammy Soyring contributed two RBIs.
“I thought the hitters did a good job today. We put the ball in play and didn’t strikeout a ton. Warren had a couple big hits for us with the double in the gap and putting it out to extend the lead. Soyring did a great job, he grinds it out for us in the leadoff spot.”
Soyring went 1-for-2 with two runs, while Warren went 2-for-5. Matt Kimmel and J.C. Aguayo each went 2-for-4 with a run and an RBI, while Johnathan Erb drew two walks and scored two runs.
Also aiding the cause was a pair of key defensive plays for the Cougars. In the top of the 7th with runners on second and third pinch hitter Steve Lozier drilled a liner towards the gap between first and second, but first baseman Jordan Leyland made a diving grab to save at least a run and keep the Sunbirds scoreless.
Then in the top of the 8th after Fresno Pacific came alive with five runs and six hits to make it a 7-5 contest Michael Rivera smacked a ball deep down the left field line. But thankfully for the Cougars defensive replacement Putjenter was on it, tracking the fly ball down before making a leaping catch at the wall to possibly save the game.
“You can’t say enough about Putjenter’s catch. He saved the game for us in left field,” said Svagdis. “It’s great to see all of these guys with different roles step up and take pride in [what they do].”
The Cougars struck first when Erb scored on a wild pitch and Page plated Kimmel in the 2nd inning. In the 3rd Kimmel singled in Soyring before Warren drove in two more runs in the 4th on a two-out double to left center to make it a 5-0 game. Azusa Pacific added one more in the 5th on an Aguayo screamer to third base that ricocheted into left field, and Warren gave the Cougars a 7-0 edge on a solo shot in the 7th.
In the 8th Fresno Pacific scored five runs, three with two outs, before Putjenter ended the rally on a highlight reel catch in deep left. Azusa Pacific tacked on two more runs in the bottom of the 8th on a two-run single from Soyring. In the 9th all-GSAC closer Alan Garcia put Fresno Pacific down in order, sealing the victory for Azusa Pacific with a 1-2-3 inning. It marked the second straight year Azusa Pacific ended the Sunbirds’ season as the Cougars knocked Fresno Pacific out of last season’s GSAC Tournament.
With the win the Cougars move on to game eight on Thursday at 2:15 p.m., and will face Biola in another elimination game. Azusa Pacific went 3-1 against the Eagles this year, and was 2-0 at home in the meetings. The winner of that game will play in the final day on Friday.
In Other News
Azusa Pacific received word this week that Cal State San Marcos used an ineligible player back on February 18, forcing San Marcos to forfeit the game. The Cougars current record of 43-9 reflects that.