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Comeback Cougars Weather The Storm

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Photo by Holly Magnuson
Danny Gonzales drove in three runs in Azusa Pacific's 12-9 win over Dixie State Thursday night.

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April 3, 2014
Chris Baker
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ST. GEORGE, Utah-- If this is any sort of preview of the Pacific West Conference’s marquee weekend series, Azusa Pacific and Dixie State fans are in for a treat. In the first game of a four game weekend set that features the PacWest’s first and second place teams, the Cougars used 10 unanswered runs to erase an 8-2 deficit in a 12-9 win over the Red Storm Thursday night.

After Dixie State grabbed an 8-2 lead with a five-run fourth inning, Azusa Pacific responded with eight runs in the fifth, and two more in the seventh to snap Dixie State’s 13-game winning streak, and move within two games in the loss column with the conference leading Red Storm.

“It’s nice to come out with a win when you’re down 8-2. Regardless of being on the road or at home, coming back like that against a good team was huge for us. It was a good game for us offensively, and for our offense to pick up our pitchers was really nice to see. Our pitchers have done a good job all year, but after they knocked our starter out our offense really picked it up,” said head coach Paul Svagdis. “We gave up a really big inning, and it’s funny how fragile things can be. Their starter was in a groove, but he had to sit for about 25 minutes and when he came back he was elevating pitches and our hitters did a good job against that. He lost his zone, and we took advantage.”

Azusa Pacific registered five straight hits to open the game-changing fifth inning, scoring eight runs to chase out Chance Abrath, who entered Thursday’s opener with a 5-1 mark on the season.

Freshman Billy Sanford relieved Cougar starter Josh Staumont in the fifth inning, and held the potent Dixie State lineup to just two hits and one run to record his second win of the season, while every Azusa Pacific batter registered a hit in the team’s second road win of the year.

Freshman pitcher Mike Fairchild pitched 1.1 innings of one-hit ball before giving way to Luis Martinez with one out in the ninth. Martinez then struck out the first batter he faced in three pitches, and after giving up a walk, forced a game-ending flyout to clinch the Cougars 19th win of the season (19-10, 12-5).

“Billy was huge today. He kept us in the game. He put a stop to their big inning, and it really set the tone for us, allowing our offense to put up a few big innings. I thought Mike and Luis were great for us tonight. To hold a team like that scoreless, especially after what they were able to do early, was crucial for us tonight,” said Svagdis.

Junior outfielder Joseph Daris paced the Cougar offense with four hits, while third baseman Danny Gonzales drove in a team-high three runs, including a game-tying two-run double in the fifth inning. Mitch Dergazarian and Jordan Brower each tallied a pair of hits and an RBI, while sophomore catcher Joe Huthsing had two runs and two hits in the win.

Daniel Martin and Sean Aspinall also added RBIs in the win, helping the Cougars score 12 runs in Azusa Pacific’s highest scoring game this season.

Daris’ RBI single in the top of the seventh extended Azusa Pacific’s lead to 11-8, scoring Aspinall, who got on base after being beaned, and advanced to third on Dusty Sanderson’s base hit through the right side. A Red Storm throwing error on a Martin grounder to short then scored Sanderson to put Azusa Pacific ahead 12-8 with the Cougars’ 10th unanswered run. Dixie State’s second home run of the game, a solo shot from Kris Kaplan, cut the Red Storm’s deficit to 12-9 to lead off the bottom of the seventh, but that was the last time Dixie State scored in the loss.

After a big fourth inning from the Red Storm, Azusa Pacific got back into the game in the top of the fifth with five straight hits to open the inning. Dergazarian’s RBI single scored James, who led off with a base hit to center, before Martin’s one-run single to left scored Daris. Brower’s one-run double down the left field line cut the deficit to 8-5, and forced the Red Storm to go to their bullpen after Abrath gave up 10 hits in four innings of work.

Despite the pitching change Azusa Pacific continued its rally, scoring on a passed ball before Dixie State recorded its first out of the inning. An Aspinall Walk then set up a game-tying two-run double from Gonzales, before Aspinall gave Azusa Pacific its first lead of the game when he scored on a failed pickoff attempt. A Daris single put the finishing touches on the eight-run inning, scoring Gonzales on the play.

Dixie State opened the game up in the fourth inning, scoring five runs in the frame, including three with two outs to chase out Staumont. The Red Storm had four infield hits against the sophomore, scoring four runs on those four hits.

Aspinall’s RBI single in the fourth scored Kimmel to get the Cougars on the board and put runners on first and third with one out. Gonzales then plated Huthsing with a sacrifice fly into right field to make it a 3-2 game before Dixie State caught Aspinall stealing to end the inning.

A Red Storm solo shot in the third put the home team ahead 3-0 after Dixie State grabbed a 2-0 lead with a two-run, three-hit second inning. In the frame the Red storm used a leadoff single, and after two outs, loaded the bases with a walk and base hit. Dixie State then hit an infield single to short to score the first run, and got the second run across on a throwing error before Staumont got out of the inning with a four-pitch strikeout.

In the top of the first Dergazarian gave the Cougars a chance to take an early lead with his one-out triple down the right field line. But Azusa Pacific failed to bring him home, ending the frame with a strikeout and groundout. Azusa Pacific tallied 17 hits in the win, and had five players with two or more hits in the game.

The two teams will return to play with a doubleheader on Friday, before concluding the crucial PacWest series with an 11 a.m. start Saturday.