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The Power Of The Pen

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Photo by Ken Williams
Billy Sanford got his first win after pitching a perfect 1.2 innings in Azusa Pacific's 3-1 defeat of UC San Diego Monday night.

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March 24, 2014
Chris Baker
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AZUSA, Calif.-- Eight Azusa Pacific pitchers combined for 11 strikeouts while allowing just one run in the Cougar baseball team’s 3-1 win over UC San Diego on Monday night. The Cougars, who limited the innings for their starting pitchers with a busy six-day six-game schedule this week, walked just one Triton batter in a game that showed off the team’s seldom used, but often effective bullpen.

Josh Staumont opened the game on the mound, and after two innings of shutout ball in which he struck out four batters Joel Belk took the reins, striking out two in 1.1 innings.

Billy Sanford then took over in the fourth, striking out three batters in 1.2 no-hit frames, and escaping a one-out, man-on-third jam in the fourth to earn his first collegiate win. His performance setup five more relievers over the next four innings, with Hunter Brown, Jonathan Velasco, Mike Fairchild, Josh Grajeda, and Luis Martinez taking turns stifling one of the top programs on the West Coast.

“I thought the bullpen did a terrific job today. It started with Billy getting out of a jam after Belk came out. Then Hunter had a great role, and did a great job against their best hitters. Fairchild battled and then Grajeda and Martinez continued to do what they’ve done all season on the backend. For all of those guys to give us a chance in a tight game against one of the top teams in the west was really good,” said head coach Paul Svagdis.

The Cougars, who took a 1-0 lead in the third inning on Blake James’ first home run of the season, never trailed against the Tritons to grab their 15th win on the last 17 games. Joe Huthsing’s RBI single in the sixth plated Matt Kimmel to give Azusa Pacific a crucial insurance run, and Jordan Brower’s one-run chopper into right field in the seventh gave the Cougars breathing room before Martinez tossed a perfect ninth frame to notch his team-leading fourth save of the season.

”They’re a great team, and they’re sound offensively and defensively. It’s a good win for our guys, especially with what our bullpen was able to do for us. We had some timely runs and were able to get what we needed, but we know we’ll have our work cut out for us tomorrow,” said Svagdis.

In the seventh inning, with the Cougars holding on to a 2-0 lead the Tritons threatened, putting runners on first and third with no outs. Azusa Pacific then called on Mike Fairchild, who induced a 6-3 double play against the first batter he faced before forcing an inning-ending foul out to limit UC San Diego to just one run in what could have been a game-changing inning.

And while the Cougar staff was dealing, the team’s defense continued to do its part. Mitch Dergazarian made multiple tough catches on the berm in deep left field, while Huthsing gunned down the only Triton runner that tried to steal a base.

“The defense did a good job of backing up our pitchers. The double play was huge, and Dergazarian did a nice job in left field in some tough situations,” said Svagdis.

Dergazarian also added a triple in the seventh inning, scoring on Brower’s base hit to right field. The Pacific West Conference Player of the Week went 2-for-4 with a run in the win, while Brower drove in one run on 2-for-4 hitting. James also added a pair of hits, blasting his first home run of the season into the left field netting in the third, while Joseph Daris tabbed the team’s only other hit of the game.

Azusa Pacific will conclude its 18-game home stand Tuesday night against the Tritons before playing in its first road game since Feb. 11 when it travels to San Diego for a four-game PacWest series at Point Loma. The Cougars will then play an exhibition against the Ranch Cucamonga Quakes on Tuesday April, 1 before traveling to St. George, Utah to face Dixie State in another four-game PacWest series.