FRESNO, Calif.-- It was only a split, but the Cougar baseball team may have had its most encouraging day of the season on Saturday at Fresno Pacific. 2012 All-GSAC pitcher Michael Finnigan tossed Azusa Pacific’s first shutout of the season in a 2-0 win, and Zach Hedges gave up just one earned run in seven innings of work in the Cougars’ 3-2 loss to kick off the afternoon.
For the two Cougar starters it was like an old game of, ‘anything you can do I can do better.’ Hedges opened things up, holding the Sunbird offense to an earned run, six hits and seven strikeouts in a losing effort to record one of the team’s top starts of the year. Finnigan followed that up with the Cougars’ top start of the season.
The senior lefty punched out six Fresno Pacific hitters, and pitched well under pressure, stranding three Sunbirds in the fourth inning, and getting out of a ninth inning jam with two runners on and one out to seal the victory. In the seventh with runners on first and second Finnigan forced an infield popup, and then struck out the final hitter to clinch the team’s fourth victory of the year (4-14, 2-6 PWC). Up until the final frame he had given up just one harmless hit, finishing the day with just two against.
Offensively Azusa Pacific continued its struggle to string hits together, finishing with four runs in the double header. The Cougars registered 14 hits, and scored all of their runs in the first two innings of both contests.
In game two the Cougars got on the board early with an RBI double from Brendan Casey in the first inning, and a one-run single from Mitch Dergazarian in the second inning to grab a 2-0 advantage that would hold throughout the rest of the game.
Azusa Pacific’s only other runs came in the first game when Danny Gonzales hit a two-run, first-inning bomb to put the Cougars ahead 2-0. It was the juniors’ second homer in as many games. The Sunbirds eventually erased the deficit, scoring once in the bottom of the first, and getting two across the plate in the sixth after a Cougar error gave Fresno Pacific an extra out to play with.
Richie Brown and Joe Huthsing each had a team-high three hits, while eight of the Cougars’ starters tabbed hits in the win. Azusa Pacific left 14 runners on base, and came up empty in a crucial inning in game one. With Matt Kimmel on third, and Danny Martin on second with no outs Azusa Pacific failed to cash in, striking out twice before grounding out to strand both runners.
Then in the ninth Brown hit a one-out single to center to put the tying run on base, but a fly out, and a lineout on a diving catch from Steven Lozier ended the Cougar threat. Jason Plowman pitched one scoreless inning of relief in the loss.
In the second game Azusa Pacific struck first when Sanderson singled with one out, and scored on a Casey double down the left field line. In the following frame Brown singled down the right field line, Ryan Henley recorded a base hit to center, and Dergazarian hit an RBI single up the middle to make it a 2-0 game before the Cougars hit into a double play with runners on first and second.
In the fourth the Azusa Pacific bats continued to put pressure on the Sunbirds’ pitching. Huthsing led off with a single to center and advanced to second on a wild pitch. Martin then got to first on an infield single, but that’s where the threat ended. The Cougars struck out, popped out, and grounded out to come out of the inning empty handed. In the bottom of the inning Fresno Pacific got its first hit, and eventually loaded the bases before Finnigan bared down with a strikeout and popout to keep the shutout intact.
Neither team threatened again until the Sunbirds put runners on first and second with one out. Finnigan, however, got the next hitter out and a popup, before getting a full-count strikeout against Bobby Mendoza.
The victory was the Cougars first of the four-game series with Fresno Pacific, lifting Azusa Pacific’s PacWest mark to 2-6 on the year. The team will have a chance to improve upon that next weekend when it travels to San Diego for a four-game series at Point Loma.