AZUSA, Calif.-- Jordan Brower’s walk off home run in the bottom of the ninth sealed the Azusa Pacific baseball team’s sweep of Holy Names on Saturday, lifting the Cougars to a 5-2 win after Adam McCreery dominated the Hawks with 11 strikeouts in a 3-0 shutout in game one.
After the Hawks (10-12, 0-6) erased the Cougars’ 2-0 lead with a two-run sixth, which pushed the scheduled seven-inning affair into extra frames, Brower fought off a few fastballs on the outside part of the play before sending a 2-2 offering into the right field net with his fourth homer of the season, and the team’s first walk off victory all year.
“He was fouling some balls off, but he finally got a pitch he could handle. And off the bat we were pretty excited about the outcome. It was nice to see our team go through some adversity and play in a tight game like that in extra innings, and for us to get a sweep against a conference opponent is huge for where we want to go,” said head coach Paul Svagdis.
Brower finished the day with three hits and four RBIs, helping Azusa Pacific seal its second Pacific West Conference sweep in the past two years. The Cougars, who have won eight straight games, improved to 6-0 in PacWest play, while holding their opponent to two or fewer runs in each of those victories behind as dominating a rotation as there is in the West Region.
Today, McCreery was the latest Cougar starter to pitch a gem, tossing 8.1 innings of shutout ball in game one to earn his second victory of the year. The Bonita High School product surrendered only two hits, each of them infield singles, and struck out 11 of the 30 batters he faced before giving way to Luis Martinez, who got two quick outs to close out the game and earn his second save of the season.
“I think Adam did a terrific job today. The few hits he gave up were bad hop, infield hits. He almost had a no-hitter. He did a heck of a job on the hill and for him to go toe-to-toe with their No. 1 and pitch like that was dynamite,” said Svagdis.
McCreery didn’t give up a hit until the fourth inning when a grounder to short took a nasty hop with Andrew Carrillo in position to throw out Benjamin Gamba. Gamba, however, was soon erased when Joe Huthsing gunned him down on a stolen base attempt.
Then in the fifth the other hit he allowed was on a weak, spinning chopper from Anthony Lazalde that caught the fringe and bounced over second basemen Blake James. But an inning-ending strikeout stranded Lazalde at first as McCreery allowed just one runner to reach second base in the win.
The Cougars took a 1-0 lead in the second inning of the first game when Joseph Daris was hit with the bases loaded, scoring Matt Kimmel. The Cougars then got a pair of insurance runs in the eighth inning after Brower doubled in Daniel Martin before Kimmel’s RBI single plated Brower to give Azusa Pacific a 3-0 advantage.
In game two Jacob Cage made his return to the starting rotation in impressive fashion, pitching five innings and leaving the game with a 2-0 lead in the sixth. He gave up seven hits, and looked in line for his first win of the season, but the runners he left on first and second made their way home to tie the game a 2-2 after six. Cage struck out two, and filled up the zone with 44 strikes on 61 pitches.
“I thought Cage pitched terrific. We anticipated using him as a closer, but we needed him to start today, and no surprise to us he delivered. He just went back into his starting mode, and I was proud of the way he came out and competed and gave us a chance to win,” said Svagdis.
Six different Cougar pitchers saw action in game two, with Luis Martinez, Nate Namanny, Josh Grajeda, Jonathan Velasco, and Mike Fairchild combining for four innings of shutout ball. Fairchild picked up his first win of the year, closing out the Hawks in the ninth after relieving Velasco. Grajeda tossed two innings of one-hit relief, helping Azusa Pacific’s pitching continue its imposing run.
“Anytime you have solid defense and good pitching you have a chance. That’s where we are. I like the guys defensively, and how they’ve picked up the pitchers. And I like how are pitchers are throwing strikes and relying on the guys behind them. A lot of the success we’ve seen has been because of pitching coach John Verhoeven. I can’t say enough about his impact on the staff this season.”
As a team the Cougars have put together a 1.60 ERA, with a trio of starters (McCreery, Josh Staumont, and Zach Hedges) each boasting sub 1.50 ERAs. Azusa Pacific has tallied 114 strikeouts in 118 innings, while walking only 46 batters.
On the offensive side, the Cougars got two RBIs from Kimmel in game two, who hit his third home run in the win on a 1-2, leadoff laser over the fence in left centerfield. The senior later doubled in Ryan Santana in the third inning to put the Cougars ahead 2-0. James batted 3-for-6 on the day, while Daris added a three hits, one RBI, and one stolen base in the two games.
Azusa Pacific, which is a perfect 8-0 at home this season, will host Fresno Pacific in a four game slate next weekend. The Cougars will take on the Sunbirds for Throwback Thursday at 6 p.m., before playing FPU at 3 p.m. on Military Appreciation night Friday. The series will then conclude with a Saturday doubleheader.