AZUSA, Calif.-- If Saturday is any indication of how good the rebuilt Cougars are, the Azusa Pacific baseball team could be in for a special season.
The Cougars were clicking on all cylinders, using timely hitting, shutdown pitching, and impressive defense to post a sweep over Cal State San Bernardino. Azusa Pacific limited the Coyotes to four hits in a 4-1 opening victory, before closing out the day with a 6-4 win.
“I thought we did well in all areas today, and I thought our energy level for 18 innings was really good. The pitchers did a good job, especially when they had some adverse moments. I don’t think any of them were on their ‘A’ game, so they ran into a few troublesome moments, and I was proud of how they pitched through them,” said head coach Paul Svagdis.
Azusa Pacific never trailed on Saturday, using five pitchers to hold the Coyotes to 10 hits between the two games. Josh Staumont gave up just one run in five innings in game one to earn a victory in his Cougar debut. The sophomore struck out four batters while walking just one before giving way to Zach Hedges in the sixth. After giving up a hit to the second batter he faced, Hedges retired nine straight batters, and allowed just one more base runner before posting a four-inning save.
In game two Joel Belk struck out five CSUSB batters in five innings, allowing three hits and two earned runs to earn his first win of the season. In the sixth inning Adam McCreery took over, and after a shaky start where he walked two batters and allowed two runs in his first inning, settled in nicely with a pair of shutout innings in the seventh and eighth. He gave up only one hit and struck out five in three innings to set up Jacob Cage for the save.
Cage gave up a pair of hits, and after the go-ahead run came to the plate, forced the Coyotes into a game-ending double play, where Blake James caught a line drive and sprinted to second for the force out. Azusa Pacific turned three double plays on Saturday, with each game ending in an infield double play.
The Cougar defense didn’t commit an error in either game, and got a highlight reel play from Jordan Brower in the eighth inning of game two. On the play the junior transfer from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo raced down the first base line to pick up a slow-rolling nubber, and in one motion picked up the ball and flicked it to Hedges, who sprinted to first base and narrowly beat out the runner.
“The defense did a really great job. We turned some big double plays, including that one at the end from James. Then we had Brower make multiple athletic plays at first, and that play where he tossed it to Hedges straight from his glove was really impressive,” said Svagdis.
And while the pitching and defense kept the Coyotes off the scoreboard, the Azusa Pacific bats did their part against a team it had lost four straight to entering Saturday’s double header. Ten separate players registered hits, with Joseph Daris leading all Cougars with five hits. Matt Kimmel finished with four hits, and Daniel Martin added three.
Seven Azusa Pacific players drove in at least one run, with Daris and Andy Bissel tabbing two apiece. Bissel hit the lone home run of the day, sending his first hit as a Cougar over the wall in left center field.
Martin provided an insurance run in the bottom of the eighth inning of game two, getting a pinch hit single, and advancing to second on a throwing error. The sophomore then stole third before Dusty Sanderson hit a sacrifice fly to right field to make it a 6-4 game. Azusa Pacific stole seven bases in the double header, with Martin and Andrew Carrillo pacing the team with two each.
In game one the Cougars took an early lead after Bissel drove in Martin, who hit a leadoff double and stole third, on a sac fly in the second inning. The Coyotes responded with a with a run on a pair of hits in the third. In the bottom of the third Carillo led off with a single, stole second, and advanced to third on a Kimmel base hit. Daris then drove Carrillo in on a fielder’s choice to second.
Azusa Pacific added a run in the sixth on a Bissel homer, and Joe Huithsing made it a 4-1 game in the eighth on a one-run double down the left field line.
The Cougars got a quick start in game two, scoring three first inning runs. Kimmel ignited the rally with a leadoff single up the middle, and Blake James put Azusa Pacific on the board with an RBI double. Brower hit a sac fly to center to score Daris, and Domenic Biagini scored James on an RBI base hit up the middle.
The ‘Yotes got one run back in the top of the second on a walk, single, stolen base, and sacrifice fly from Aaron Beckley. CSUSB made it a 3-2 game in the fourth inning on another Beckley RBI before the Cougars extended their lead to 5-2 in the bottom of the frame.
Ryan Santana opened things up with a double, and Danny Gonzales drove him in with a single to right. Sanderson sacrificed Gonzales to second before he eventually crossed home on a wild pitch. In the top of the sixth Cal State San Bernardino used four walks and a base hit to score twice and cut the Cougar lead to 5-4 before Martin gave Azusa Pacific an insurance run in the eight.
In the ninth inning Cage made his first appearance since the 2012 season, sealing Azusa Pacific’s second win with his second career save. The victories snapped a four-game losing streak to CSUSB, and gave the Cougars their first 2-0 start since 2011.
Azusa Pacific will return to action next weekend when it travels to Chico for a four-game series against Chico State, beginning Thursday. The Cougars will return home on Feb. 18 against Concordia.