AZUSA, Calif. -- Junior righthander Zach Hedges piled up a career-high 12 strikeouts and carried a three-hit shutout into the ninth inning of Azusa Pacific's 5-1 win over Cal State Dominguez Hills Friday night.
Hedges struck out the side in the fourth inning and seemingly grew stronger as the game went on, striking out 10 of 18 Toro batters from the fourth through eighth innings without surrendering a walk his during his entire 8.2-inning effort.
“Zach gave us a shot to win by putting up zeroes after we scored two runs early, and that was a real boost to our team both offensively and defensively,” head coach Paul Svagdis said. “Like the other starters on our pitching staff, Zach is a strong kid who trains hard and takes care of his body. As they go later into the game, because they’re so competitive, they realize that they have to dig in deep and bring something extra at that point if they want to win the game.”
Meanwhile, the Cougar offense generated a pair of first-inning runs to give Hedges an early lead to work with, and senior third baseman Danny Gonzales extended it to 4-0 when he blistered a two-run shot to right field in the sixth inning for his first home run of the year.
In the bottom of the first, sophomore leftfielder Mitch Dergazarian drew a one-out walk and scored on senior rightfielder Matt Kimmel’s double down the left field line. Kimmel then stole third and scored on a sacrifice fly from junior first baseman Jordan Brower.
For the next five innings, Hedges held the Toros offense in check. He collected 14 outs from the first 14 hitters he faced, erasing the first hit he allowed with a third-inning double play. The next two Cal State Dominguez Hills hits, both with two outs in the fifth, were infield singles that preceded another inning-ending strikeout.
“Our hitters attacked and got a couple of runs early, and that made me determined to keep that lead,” Hedges said. “Cal State Dominguez Hills had a strong lineup, so we just had to keep attacking the strike zone.”
With two outs in the bottom of the sixth, sophomore catcher Joe Huthsing doubled down the left field line, which Gonzales followed by blasting the first pitch he saw off the top of the screen behind the right field fence for a two-run home run that gave the Cougars a 4-0 lead. The very next inning, junior second baseman Blake James hit a leadoff double that led to another insurance run on Dergazarian’s one-out single to left.
“I thought we executed very well as an offensive unit today,” Svagdis said. “Dergazarian had a great two-strike at-bat that got us an extra run, and if we want to be able to score runs on the road, we have to be able to continue to execute like that on the road.”
With two outs in the top of the seventh, Hedges got Aaron Gray to strike out swinging, but the pitch was low and bounced in the dirt for a wild pitch that allowed the hitter to reach base safely. Undaunted, Hedges simply striuck out the next batter by freezing him with a 1-2 pitch that caught the corner for another strikeout, this time looking. Hedges remained strong through the eighth, striking out another pair to wrap up eight innings of three-hit shutout ball.
The ninth is when Hedges’ near-perfect performance started to fade. The leadoff batter flew out to deep left center, and Danny Haley doubled to left center for the only extra-base hit allowed up by Hedges. A sharp one-out grounder down the third-base line put runners at first and third for a run-scoring groundout, which broke up the shutout bid. After surrendering the run, Hedges gave way to Luis Martinez, who needed just four pitches to finish the game with another groundout.
“As the pitch count started to get up later in the game, I wanted to do all I could to get the win for the team,” Hedges said. “I was determined to finish strong, because when you start something you want to be able to finish it. I just trusted the defense to make amazing plays like they always do.”
Kimmel was two-for-four with two doubles, and he was joined with two hits by Huthsing and junior centerfielder Joseph Daris. Six of the Cougars’ nine hits in the game went for extra bases.
“We faced some good pitchers from Cal State Dominguez Hills today, and some of the good at-bats were things like Brower’s sacrifice fly early on as well as Daris after a leadoff double putting the ball on the right side with two strikes to move the runner to third,” Svagdis said. “We’ve been really focused on getting better with our execution in those situations, and they did it today against a good team so it was a good day in that respect.”
With the win, Azusa Pacific improves to 16-6 overall and is now 3-3 against NCAA Division II non-conference competition. Cal State Dominguez Hills drops to 10-13 on the season. The Cougars host another West Region foe for a two-game series next week when UC San Diego visits Azusa Pacific for single games Monday and Tuesday night.