AZUSA, Calif.-- Azusa Pacific’s late-inning offense was on display again, but this time the Cougars were in too big a hole to take advantage, falling to Grand Canyon (Ariz.) 8-4 in the series opener on Thursday night. The Cougars’ stagnant offense came alive in the ninth, putting three runs on the board, two of which came on a pinch-hit home run by Domenic Biagini, but the Antelopes’ six extra base hits provided enough for GCU to stave off any of the late-game heroics Cougar fans became accustomed to on Monday and Tuesday night.
Grand Canyon (33-11, 25-6), which entered the series with just seven home runs on the season, sent two out of the park in the opener, and posted four two-run frames to inch closer towards a Pacific West Conference championship, while the Cougars failed to take advantage of their 10 hits, stranding six runners and going just 4-for-12 with runners on base. Seven of the ‘Lopes eight runs came on extra base hits, with the other coming on a squeeze play in the fourth inning to give GCU a 4-1 advantage.
Brendan Casey had a team-high three hits with a double, while Daniel Gonzales went 1-for-1 with a pinch hit RBI in the bottom of the ninth. Each of Azusa Pacific’s four pitchers were tagged four two earned runs, while GCU’s Jorge Perez tossed eight innings of one-run ball to grab his sixth (6-4) victory of the season.
The Antelopes broke a 0-0 tie in the third inning with a two-run bases loaded double to the left field wall, and if not for an impressive relay from center to short to home, could have gone ahead by three but Joe Huthsing blocked the plate and applied the tag on Michael Pomeroy to get the Cougars out of the inning.
In the bottom of the inning Azusa Pacific loaded the bases after back-to-back-to-back two-out singles from Mitch Dergazarian, Casey, and Richie Brown. But a sharp line to second drive off the bat of Matt Kimmel ended the threat.
In the fourth GCU was at it again, taking advantage of a leadoff walk with a one-run double to center field. Then with runners on first and third Kyle Raidy laid down a perfect bunt on a squeeze play to extend the ‘Lopes lead to 4-1.
In the top of the sixth Ryan Henley saved a potential run, making a great defensive stop, diving to his left and beating the runner at first to end top of the 6th and strand two runners. In the bottom of the inning Casey hit a leadoff homer, advanced to third on a groundout, and scored on Kimmel grounder to short to put Azusa Pacific on the board.
The Antelopes got two runs across in each of the seventh and eighth innings to make it an 8-1 game, before the Cougars got three across in the ninth. In the final frame Henley hit a one-out double just inside the chalk in deep left, and scored on a pinch hit single hit by Gonzales. Biagini made it an 8-4 game in the next at-bat, driving a first-pitch offering into the left field net. But that was as close as Azusa Pacific would get, closing the game with a groundout and a strikeout to fall to 13-29 on the year, 10-19 in PacWest play.
The two teams will square off again on Friday at 5 p.m. before the Cougars close their home slate with a double header on Saturday at 11 a.m. Grand Canyon holds a two-game lead on California Baptist in the PacWest standings.