LA JOLLA, Calif.--Azusa Pacific’s tough week looked like it was going to continue on Saturday, with the Cougar baseball team trailing UC San Diego by as many as four runs midway through their final non-conference game of the season. But Azusa Pacific battled back with six unanswered runs, including three in the top of the eighth and two in the 11th to come away with an 11-inning 7-5 defeat of the Tritons (20-18).
The Cougars, who gave up a season-high 21 runs in a loss to Cal Poly Pomona on Wednesday, got timely hitting and clutch pitching, most notably in a game-ending double play with the go-ahead run at the plate in the 11th. Joel Belk and Nate Namanny combined for only one strikeout, but outside of a big fourth inning for the Tritons, kept Azusa Pacific in the game with nine scoreless frames.
Namanny (3-3) was impressive in relief, earning the win with six shutout innings of four-hit ball. He stranded five UCSD runners, and pitched well from the stretch to help Azusa Pacific tab seven consecutive scoreless innings.
“For the guys to bounce back from the last couple of games and put that away and battle makes me really proud. I thought both Nate and Joel were real tough today. Joel had one tough inning, but came back at and put a zero up on the scoreboard, and that was huge for us,” said head coach Paul Svagdis.
“I told the guys that Nate’s done a great job all year of pitching well with runners on. He pitches confidently with guys on base and the coaching staff and the team are confident because he doesn’t panic when things happen. And we saw it with that game-ending double play.”
The Cougars took their first lead of the day when Tyler Putjenter drove an RBI single into straight-away center in the 11th to score Joe Huthsing. A Mitch Dergazarian base-hit up the middle then plated Putjenter to make it a 7-5 game.
In the bottom of the 11th the Tritons led off with a double to left center, and got a one-out walk to put the tying run on first and the go-ahead run at the plate before Namanny forced a 6-3 double play to clinch the victory.
Putjenter recorded a team-high two RBIs, while Dergazarian went 2-for-2 with one run and one RBI.
“I thought we did a good job at the plate. We had a lot of good at bats. Ryan Henley had a big base hit, and then Putjenter’s base hit up the middle put us ahead. Degazarian had two really good at bats off the bench, and I thought as a whole a lot of guys looked good at the plate,” said Svagdis.
The Cougars finished with 11 hits, six of which came in the final four innings, and had seven different players score. Henley, whose two-run double keyed a three-run eighth inning, went 1-for-2, while Domenic Biagini went 2-for-4 with one run. Joe Huthsing batted 1-for-5 and recorded one RBI, a game-tying groundout to first in the eighth.
The Tritons struck first, grabbing a 1-0 lead in the second inning before the Cougars knotted it at 1-1 in the fourth when Biagini scored on a wild pitch. But as has been the trend this week, Azusa Pacific couldn’t hold onto the momentum as the Tritons busted the game open with a four-run fourth inning.
In the frame Scott Liske led off with his first homer of the season to give UCSD a 2-1 lead. Two Triton singles, coupled with a throwing error made it a 3-1 game before a sacrifice fly put UC San Diego up 4-1. The Tritons capped the scoring on a double into the right field gap as the Cougars looked up at a 5-1 deficit headed into the fifth inning.
Azusa Pacific got one run back in the top of the fifth after Dusty Sanderson walked, and advanced to third on an Andrew Carrillo single. Putjenter’s squeeze play scored Dusty Sanderson before the Cougars stranded Carrillo on third with an inning-ending flyout to right field.
In the top of the eighth Biagini hit a leadoff single and Azusa Pacific loaded the bases after Troy Cruz hit back-to-back batters, Brendan Casey and Richie Brown, to set the table for Ryan Henley, who knocked in two runs on a single to right field. Azusa Pacific then tied the game on a groundout to first base by Huthsing positioning the Cougars for extra innings after Namanny allowed only one base runner in the bottom of the eighth and ninth.
In the 11th Huthsing hit a leadoff single to center and moved to second on a sacrifice by Sanderson. Putjenter then plated Huthsing on a single to center, and advanced to third on a throwing error from center field as Azusa Pacific grabbed its first lead of the day. Dergazarian gave Azusa Pacific a two-run cushion with a one-run base hit to center before Namanny sealed his third win of the year with an inning-ending groundout in the bottom of the 11th.
Azusa Pacific has just two home PacWest series left on the docket before closing the 2013 campaign with back-to-back doubleheaders at Academy of Art on April 2-3. The Cougars will host Hawai’i Pacific on April 22 and 23, and will finish their home slate with a three-day, four-game series against Grand Canyon (Ariz.) beginning April 25.