AZUSA, Calif.-- The Azusa Pacific baseball team survived a scare from Dixie State, avoiding a Red Storm sweep with a narrow 9-8 win in game one before falling 4-1 in game two on Saturday afternoon. The Cougars (9-21; 7-12 PWC) led by as many as eight in the opener behind a strong start from Zach Hedges and a potent offensive attack. And after a seven-run eighth inning put a once comfortable Azusa Pacific advantage in jeopardy, Joel Belk ended the Red Storm flurry to record his second save of the season and preserve Hedges’ fourth victory of the year.
Hedges tossed seven innings, and struck out 11 batters, while throwing 72 of his 121 pitches for strikes. After an off first inning in which Dixie State (21-7; 13-7 PWC) scored one run on two hits, Hedges held the Red Storm hitless in five of the next six innings. The sophomore righty also pitched well in crunch time, getting out of a jam in the fifth with back-to-back strikeouts after the Red Storm put runners on second and third with one out.
In the eighth, however, Dixie State got Hedges out of his rhythm, opening the frame with a walk, single, and double to score its first run since the first inning and chase Hedges out of the game. Hunter Brown, who has been nearly unhittable as of late, relieved him, and gave up a three-run home run to the first batter he faced to make it a 9-5 game.
Dixie State continued the comeback bid with three consecutive singles, capped by an RBI base hit up the middle to plate two Red Storm runners. Belk then came in to replace Brown, holding Dixie State to just one more run in the frame before posting a 1-2-3 ninth to seal the victory.
Joe Huthsing tabbed a team-high three RBIs, going 2-for-3 with a double. Azusa Pacific recorded five extra base hits in the win, finishing with 15 hits. Four Cougars logged multiple hits, with Richie Brown leading the way with four. The senior also drove in two runs, matching Tyler Putjenter and Dusty Sanderson who each recorded a pair of RBIs.
Azusa Pacific, who beat up one of the PacWest’s top pitchers in Austin Christiansen, took its first lead of the game in the second inning. Matt Kimmel kicked things off with a one-out walk, and advanced to second on a single to left from Brown. Ryan Henley loaded the bases with an infield single to short before Hutshing hit a two-run double down the left field line. A Putjenter single to left center scored Henley as the Cougars went into the third inning with a 3-1 edge.
Azusa Pacific extended it to 4-1 on an RBI double from Putjenter in the fourth, and made it a 6-1 affair after a two-out rally in the fifth. In the inning Danny Gonzales walked, and moved to second on the first of four consecutive Cougar singles. Kimmel’s base-knock put runners on first and second, setting up Brown’s RBI single up the middle. After Azusa Pacific re-loaded the bases Huthsing plated Kimmel on a base-hit to right field.
The Cougars added to their lead again in the seventh, first scoring one run on back-to-back doubles from Kimmel and Brown. A wild pitch, walk, and hit batsman loaded the bases again, giving way to Sanderson’s first hit of the series, a two-run base hit up the middle, to push Azusa Pacific’s advantage to 9-1.
The Cougars, who tagged Christiansen for five earned runs after the pitcher had given up only seven in his previous 32.2 innings of work, were the first team to hand the senior a loss this season.
In game two the Cougars struck first with a solo blast from Domenic Biagini in the opening inning. The homer was the junior’s team-leading fourth of the season. Azusa Pacific, however, couldn’t get its offense going throughout the rest of the game, managing just six hits in the next six innings.
Nate Namanny took his second loss of the year, giving up four earned runs over 6.2 innings of work. The freshman held the Red Storm scoreless in the first two innings, getting Dixie State to hit into 6-4-3 double plays to end the first and second innings. Both teams turned three double plays in the game, all of which came in the first four innings.
Dixie State took a 2-1 lead in the third, getting a double and base hit to open the inning, and scoring on a groundout to short, and a single through the left side. The Red Storm then made it a 4-1 game in the fourth, scoring on a double play and a double to left. The Cougars never really threatened Dixie State’s lead from that point on, getting just one runner past first base over the next four innings.
Kimmel and Biagini each had two hits, while Brendan Casey, Andrew Carrillo, Huthsing, and Brown each finished with one hit.
The split kept the Cougars from suffering their first series sweep of the season. Azusa Pacific will return to action on Thursday when it opens up a four game series with California Baptist in Riverside at 3 p.m.