CLAREMONT, Calif.-- Coming into the 2013 season there were questions about how the Azusa Pacific baseball team would respond after losing so much of its 47-12 squad from a year ago. On Friday the Cougars alleviated the doubts, defeating Claremont-Mudd-Scripps 4-1 to kick off the 2013 campaign with a convincing win thanks to a mix of new faces, and steady senior leadership.
Azusa Pacific was strong in all three aspects of the game, limiting the Stags offense with strong pitching and defense, while rattling off 12 hits with a lineup that featured only two starters from last season. Senior Ryan Henley led the charge with three hits, including a key two-run base hit to give Azusa Pacific breathing room in the seventh inning, while senior Brendan Casey had no problems behind the dish in his first career start at catcher.
The Cougars finished with 12 hits, coming from six different players, and held the Stags to just one run on three hits thanks to a strong start from Jason Plowman. Plowman tossed five innings of one-run ball and gave up just three hits and one earned run. Seniors Casey, Henley, and Richie Brown each finished with three hits in the game, and recorded all four of the team’s RBIs.
“It was great to be out here today. Our seniors did a really great job. Plowman gave us good five innings, Richie Brown did well at first, Casey was awesome behind the plate, and Henley had some big hits. I’m really proud of our seniors leading by example today and helping us get the win,” said head coach Paul Svagdis.
And while the seniors led the way, Azusa Pacific’s newcomers did more than their fair share. Freshman Andrew Carillo had no issues in his first collegiate game, making numerous plays at shortstop. Red shirt freshman Joel Belk was superb in his debut, holding the Stags without a hit over four nearly perfect innings of relief to earn the save. He struck out two hitters and the had just one opposing batter reach base (error).
“I was pleased with our young guys, and returners who didn’t get that many at-bats last year. I thought Carrillo did a great job at short today. Those are some big shoes to fill and he handled it really well. Joel was great...for him to go out there and shut them down like that was impressive,” said Svagdis. “I’m pleased with a lot of what we did and the outcome, but we still have a lot of work to do to get to where we need to be.”
Joe Daris, who was primarily a pinch runner in 2012, registered the team’s first hit of the season, blasting a line drive into center field in the top of the first inning, and senior Richie Brown recorded the first RBI when he drove in Casey on a double in the second inning. The senior finished 3-for-4 on the afternoon, while Daris logged a pair of stolen bases.
Azusa Pacific was aggressive on the base paths, tallying six stolen bases on seven attempts. The team had hits in all but two innings, and had at least one player reach base in every frame.
Azusa Pacific controlled the game from start to finish and put it on in the seventh inning. In the frame Gonzales reached first after getting beaned and was replaced by pinch-runner Danny Martin. Casey was hit to put runners on first and second. Then, after a double-steal, Henley drove the ball just inside the third-base line to put the Cougars up 4-1 with a two-run single.
The Stags cut Azusa Pacific’s lead to one run in the fourth inning after opening the frame with a double in the left field gap. Plowman walked the next batter before the runners advanced to second and third on a sacrifice bunt. The following batter recorded CMS’ lone RBI on a fly ball to deep left center for a sacrifice fly. Plowman got out of the inning, forcing a grounder to third base, and stayed out of harm’s way for the rest of the game.
The Cougars stretched their lead from 1-to-2 in the third inning when Casey drove a ball through the right side to score Kimmel, who reached on a bloop single to center before stealing second base. Richie Brown opened the scoring in the second inning, doubling down the left field line to plate Casey, who reached on a walk.
The win was the program’s 17th consecutive to open the year, a streak dating back to 1997. The Cougars will return to the field on Tuesday for their home opener against Concordia. First pitch is scheduled for 5 p.m.