AZUSA, Calif.-- On the final day of Golden State Athletic Conference postseason tournament the NAIA’s 4th ranked Azusa Pacific did all it could to extend its life, overcoming a four-run deficit to tie it at 6-6 in the 8th before falling 7-6 in the 9th, giving 11th ranked Concordia its second straight GSAC tournament title. The Cougars (44-10) battled back from a 4-0 hole, and tied it at 6-6 on a two-out two-run double from Sammy Soyring in the 8th, but the Eagles loaded the bases in the 9th and took the lead on a sac fly to come away with their second win over Azusa Pacific this year.
“They’re a great team and our guys did a good job competing and tried to make something happen in the end but we came up short,” said head coach Paul Svagdis. “You learn from your mistakes. We’re going to learn from some of the things that we did and we’ll take positives from some of the things that we did well, like those big at bats at the end of the game.”
The Eagles out-hit the Cougars 13-9, led by Aaron Gates’ two home runs and four RBIs. The first baseman gave Concordia a 2-0 lead with a two run shot in the 1st and widened the gap to 4-0 in the 3rd with his 10th homer of the season. Azusa Pacific was led by Soyring, Johnathan Erb, and Jordan Leyland, who all finished with two RBIs in the loss. Leyland hit his GSAC-leading 22nd home run of the year, while Erb gave the Cougars new life on a two-run single up the middle in the 7th.
After trailing 4-0 and then 5-2 the Cougars made it a one-run game on Erb’s base hit in the 7th. Then in the 8th the Cougars registered just two hits, but tied the game with a pair of runs, all with two outs. Trevor Lothrop opened the rally with a single to left, before Joe Daris recorded a pinch-hit walk to put runners on first and second with Soyring coming to the plate. The senior second baseman, who has been more accustomed to scoring runs instead of driving them in, stepped up and lined a 1-2 offering down the left field line to tie the game.
Concordia, however, responded in the 9th with a one-out single before reaching on a hit-batter. The Eagles then loaded the bags with a walk before Ryan Dimascio hit a deep fly ball into right field to put Concordia ahead 7-6, giving the Eagles their second straight tournament title on the road.
Azusa Pacific used a slew of pitchers, starting with Ben Ruder, who gave up five earned runs and six hits in three innings of work. Cameron Ross was effective for the second time this tournament in relief, tossing 1.2 scoreless innings to finish with 6.2 shutout frames this week. Jason Plowman and Jesus Del Rosario combined to pitch 2.1 shutout innings, while Matt Winkler and Colby Gurney each gave up a run, with Gurney taking his third loss of the year (9-3).
Concordia’s Andrew Brooks held Azusa Pacific in check, giving up just two runs (both on Leyland’s 3rd inning home run) through six innings. But the sophomore may have stayed in one pitch too long as the Erb drilled a ball into center field to plate a pair of Cougars in the bottom of the 7th, making it a 6-4 contest. Sean Buford picked up the win, despite blowing the save when he allowed two runs to score on Soyring’s double.
The junior, however, put Azusa Pacific down in the 9th without giving up a hit as Matt Kimmel reached on a throwing error before J.C. Aguayo grounded out to end the game. Kimmel finished the day 0-for-5, but finished the tournament with a .375 clip from the plate. Aguayo went 2-for-5, and ended the tournament with a .438 average to lead the Cougars.
With the loss the Cougars will wait to hear who will be selected to play in next week’s NAIA Baseball Championship Opening Round hosted by Azusa Pacific. The five-team tournament begins next Thursday with the winner advancing to the Avista-NAIA World Series in Lewiston, Idaho. Concordia clinched a spot in the 45-team field after taking the tournament title. Last year the Eagles won the GSAC tournament as the 4-seed, advanced past the opening round, and won their first NAIA World Series.