AZUSA, Calif.-- Call them the comeback kids, the ones that never quit, or whatever else you think fits the bill for a team that continues to let bygones be just that, gone. Just don’t ever accuse them of quitting. On Saturday afternoon the Azusa Pacific baseball team showed off exactly what its becoming known for, quickly getting over a 12-3 shellacking to hand the Pacific West Conference’s first place team its first shutout of the season in a 3-0 victory to split its second consecutive PacWest series.
Joel Belk led the charge with a masterful performance, limiting Grand Canyon to only two hits in his second shutout of the year while flirting with a no-no. Belk didn’t surrender a hit until the fifth inning, and quickly had it erased on a 6-4-3 double play, facing only 24 batters in seven innings of work in the team’s final home game of the year.
“I wanted to make the last home game special for the seniors. They’ve given us their all and fought hard all season, and deserved to go out with a win. It was a special game,” said the redshirt freshman. “The no-hitter crossed my mind, but when I gave up the hit I shrugged, was kind of disappointed, and moved on. I thought the guys did a great job behind me. I couldn’t ask for a better defense. Joe Huthsing called a great game and I couldn’t have done it without him. Ryan Henley had some plays in the hole, Brendan Casey played great at third, and Mitch Dergazarian was awesome in center... all of them played great.”
The Cougar defense did its part to keep the ‘Lopes’ (34-13, 26-8) high-powered offense off the board, accounting for 18 of the 21 outs. Andrew Carrillo and Henley teamed up for a double play in the fifth inning to nullify GCU’s first base hit, and in the sixth Dergazarian had a web-gem to save extra bases, chasing down a liner in the right center gap on a diving play to his left.
Grand Canyon got its second hit in the top of the seventh, but Belk (3-0) closed out the game with a soft chopper to first as Azusa Pacific (15-30, 12-20) secured its second consecutive PacWest split, and Belk’s second shutout of the year, with each coming against the two teams atop the conference standings (other was against California Baptist on April 6).
“GCU is a well-coached and very talented club. For him to go out and two-hit a team like that says a lot about his level of focus today. I’m proud of him and the way the rest of the team competed,” said head coach Paul Svagdis. “To watch out guys go out after a tough first game is a testament to our process. The greatest thing we learned this year is that once the game’s over it’s over. We can’t change the outcome. What we can change is our attitude when we’re disappointed or frustrated or whatever word you want to use we have to change our focus towards the next game. If we can do that on a smaller level, within a game, then I think we have a chance to put some good things together.”
On the offensive side the Cougars manufactured a run in the first inning, and added to their one-run lead in the fourth on a two-run bomb from Domenic Biagini, who launched a first-pitch fastball over the right field wall for his team-leading sixth home run of the season.
The Cougars finished with five hits, spread through its top-six in the lineup, while Grand Canyon couldn’t turn either of its hits into runs. GCU got only one runner past first, getting back-to-back sacrifice bunts after a leadoff walk, and putting ‘Lopes on first and third with a hit batter before an inning ending groundout stranded two runners in the third. GCU left only three runners on base, with the only other one coming in the final frame.
The Cougars got on the board first, taking advantage of a leadoff single by Tyler Putjenter and a wild pitch. Dergazarian moved Putjenter to third base on a groundout, and Richie Brown’s infield single gave the Cougars a 1-0 lead. Over the next three frames Grand Canyon reached base on a pair of walks and hit batter before Garrett Jeffries’ single to center field ended Belk’s no-hit bid.
In the top of the sixth the Antelopes went down in order, with Belk striking out two batters, and in the final inning Derek Mendoza had a harmless base hit to right field before Azusa Pacific sealed the victory with a groundout to first base.
In the 12-3 loss the Cougars gave up 17 hits, and saw GCU post a pair of five-run frames in a convincing win. Mendoza went 4-for-5 with four RBIs, while Andrew Detwiler posted a complete game to notch his eighth win of the season. Matt Kimmel and Belk each drove in a run, and Casey and Brown recorded two hits apiece.
The Cougars will close its first season of PacWest play with a four-game series at Academy of Art on Thursday and Friday, still in search of their first series win of the year.