SAN DIEGO, Calif.-- The last time Zach Hedges took the mound he allowed just one earned run in seven innings of work en route to suffering a tough 3-2 loss to Fresno Pacific. On Friday afternoon Hedges was at his best again, and this time came out on the winning end. The sophomore pitched a complete game, getting Azusa Pacific out of multiple jams and allowing only one earned run, while getting help on the offensive end in the Cougar baseball team’s 6-3 series opening victory over Point Loma. The win salvaged another split as the Cougars fell 5-2 in game two of the double-dip.
Hedges commanded the zone all day, striking out six Sea Lions and throwing 80 of his 119 pitches for strikes to collect his first win of the season. He also pitched well under pressure, most notably when he staved off a Point Loma rally, striking out Clinton Harwick with runners on the corners to keep Azusa Pacific’s 4-3 lead intact in the bottom of the eighth.
And while Hedges highlighted the victory, the offense and defense (which committed four errors) came through in key moments. With the Cougars holding onto a 4-3 edge in the top of the ninth Brendan Casey stretched the Cougars’ lead to three, homering in Matt Kimmel to give Hedges a pair of safety runs. The senior third basemen drove in three of Azusa Pacific’s runs, adding an RBI double earlier in the game.
Kimmel went 1-for-5, and provided one of the most important defensive plays of the afternoon in the bottom of the sixth. With one out and a runner on second Lucas DiCiccio singled up the middle for what appeared to be an RBI base-hit, but Kimmel put his throw to home on the money, beating the runner and keeping the Cougars’ advantage at 4-2. Azusa Pacific got out of the inning unscathed minutes later when Joe Huthsing gunned down DiCiccio at second on a failed stolen base attempt.
The offense tallied 13 hits and scored six runs for just the third time this season, getting RBIs from Casey, Danny Gonzales, Domenic Biagini, and Richie Brown. The Cougars got hits from the top-seven players in the lineup, and had five batters with multiple hits.
Neither team got anything going in the first inning, but both threatened in the second. The Cougars got runners on first and second in the frame, but came away empty handed. The Sea Lions got a leadoff single, and put runners on first and second on a hit batter. They tried to bunt both over, but a heads up play from Hedges got the lead runner at third. Point Loma, however, continued to press, loading the bases on a walk before Hedges registered back-to-back strikeouts (both swinging) to get out of the inning.
In the third inning a two-out rally gave Azusa Pacific the early lead. Dusty Sanderson reached first on an infield single, and scored on a Casey double. Gonzales then singled through the right side to plate Casey and make it a 2-0 contest. In the bottom of the inning Point Loma got one back on a two-out RBI double, and later tied it in the fourth on an RBI single after an Azusa Pacific error kept the inning alive.
The Cougars added a pair of runs in the fifth on a double from Biagini and a single from Brown. The Sea Lions cut the deficit to one again, scoring on a throwing error in the bottom of the seventh. In the eighth Point Loma reached on another Cougar error, and put runners on the corners after a steal and a single before Hedges got out of the inning with a strikeout. Casey’s homerun in the top of the ninth extended the Cougars advantage to 6-3, and Hedges held on for the complete game in the bottom of the frame with two more strikeouts.
In game two the Cougars struck first, taking a 1-0 edge on an RBI groundout from Gonzales. Point Loma, however, erased the lead in the second frame on an RBI double. The two teams then traded scoreless innings until the Sea Lions broke things open in the bottom of the fourth.
Point Loma got a leadoff double, followed by a one-out single and walk to load the bags. A short flyout to right eliminated the sac-fly threat, but back-to-back two-out doubles stretched the Sea Lion lead to 4-1. Azusa Pacific got one back in the top of the fifth on a solo homer from Kimmel, but that was as close as the Cougars would get, falling 5-2 for their third doubleheader split of the season.
Michael Finnigan pitched four innings, and registered three strikeouts before Hunter Brown took over in the fifth. Brown was perfect in his outing, putting down each of the six batters he faced. Azusa Pacific managed only six hits in the loss, getting two hits apiece from Kimmel and Biagini.
The loss keeps the Cougars from winning three straight for the first time this season, putting Azusa Pacific at 3-7 in Pacific West play. The Cougars will return to the diamond on Saturday when they take on the Sea Lions for another noon doubleheader.