AZUSA, Calif.-- Just one day removed from their biggest offensive performance of the season the Azusa Pacific bats were reeling, and in need of a lift. That’s when senior Richie Brown stepped to the plate and delivered the Cougars’ most important hit of the season, a walk off laser shot into the left filed net to secure the Cougars’ first Pacific West Conference series with a 1-0 nine-inning win after a the Cougars fell 4-1 to Hawai‘i Hilo in game one of Tuesday’s doubleheader.
“It feels great. I felt like we were hitting the ball hard all day, and it was just time for one to fall,” said Brown. “Coach tells us every day what our hitting plan is and we stick to it. The results don’t always have to come right away, but if you stick to it they will, and today proved that.”
The Cougars struggled at the plate all day, registering only 11 hits in 17 innings prior to the game-winning home run. Azusa Pacific struck out nine times, and couldn’t match hits with hits, going 1-for-11 with runners on base. But in one fell swing the offensive frustration turned into a raucous postgame celebration at the plate.
“It’s nice to get our first PacWest series under our belt. I was really happy for Richie. He’s been playing well all season, and it was apropos for him to end the game the way he did,” said head coach Paul Svagdis. “He’s done a great job of focusing on the process, and that’s probably where we need to get better as a team. Individually he’s been one of the guys to have a hitting process every day, even when the balls weren’t falling for him.”
And while Richie Brown provided the opportune offensive spark, it was Hunter Brown that limited to Vulcan (7-23-1;6-17-1 PWC) offense down the stretch. Brown pitched three innings of relief, striking out a pair of batters and holding Hawai‘i Hilo scoreless despite allowing the Vulcans to get a man within 90 feet of scoring on two separate occasions. Brown, who recorded his first win, allowed only one hit with runners on base, while throwing 31 of his 45 pitches for strikes.
The junior relieved freshman Joel Belk, who was dealing in his first start in weeks. Belk gave up only four hits in six innings, while tabbing five strikeouts to keep the Cougars in the game.
“Belk did a terrific job, especially after being off for three weeks. It was a tough spot because he was pitching a shutout, but we all had a lot of confidence in Hunter, and he certainly did a great job. I’m proud of him, we’re all excited to see him be successful. He won the game for us, no question about it,” said Svagdis.
Brown also pitched 1.1 scoreless innings of relief in game one.
Offensively three Cougars finished with multiple hits on Tuesday. Brown had a hit in each game, while Tyler Putjenter and Brendan Casey each notched a pair of hits in the first game. Danny Gonzales doubled with two outs to put the game-winning run on second base in the bottom of the eighth of game two, but a great defensive play in center on a liner from Joe Huthsing erased the brief threat.
In the top of the eighth the Vulcans got runners on second and third with two outs before Brown got out of the jam with a groundout to first base. In the top of the seventh Hawai’i Hilo got a leadoff single, and sacrificed a runner over to second. A deep fly to right field put the go-ahead run on third base before Brown got Greg Cleary to strike out swinging.
In the top of the fifth the Vulcans threatened, getting a leadoff double, and a sacrifice bunt to put Brad Fairweather on third base with one out. Belk, however, got a groundout to shortstop before getting the third out on strikes to end the Hawai’i Hilo rally.
The Cougars made their biggest move in the bottom of the fourth, taking advantage of a throwing error to get Huthsing on first base. Brown then walked, and yesterday’s hero, Ryan Henley recorded a base hit through the left side to load the bases. But the Cougars couldn’t cash in, stranding three runners after a close play a first got the Vulcans out of the inning.
In the top of the first Hawai’i Hilo got back-to-back hits with two outs before Belk forced a lazy fly ball to center to get out of his first jam of the afternoon.
Both offenses stranded eight runners, and each team had just two extra-base hits.
In game one Jason Plowman took the mound, and pitched well over the course of his 7.2 innings. He gave up three earned runs and struck out three batters. He was strong out of the stretch, and got out of a first inning jam with a double-play ball to short to eliminate a first and third threat with one out. Plowman forced 10 groundouts, giving up only four hits with runners on base.
The Cougar offense sputtered, going four straight innings without a hit before Putjenter singled up the middle in the eighth inning. The single setup Azusa Pacific’s lone run as Matt Kimmel scored on a Casey single. But that was as threatening as the bats would get. Azusa Pacific finished with only seven hits, and seven men left on base.
The split sealed the Cougars’ first series win of the year, and improved their record to 2-0 in extra innings. Azusa Pacific will have a chance to continue its winning ways on Friday when it welcomes Dixie State (Utah) for a four-game series. The first pitch is slated for 3 p.m.