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Long Overdue

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February 26, 2005
Micah McDaniel
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Azusa Pacific 7
The Master’s 5

Azusa Pacific 13
The Master’s 3

AZUSA, Calif.-- The first month of Azusa Pacific’s baseball season has been anything but kind to the Cougars. Between rainouts, cancellations, heartbreaking losses and other setbacks, it’s been a task to stay positive.

All that changed Saturday, however, in a matter of a few hours.

Azusa Pacific lit the bats on fire and used impressive pitching to get a key GSAC doubleheader sweep of The Master’s, 7-5 in the opener and 13-3 in the nightcap.

With the sweep, Azusa Pacific snaps its 5-game losing skid, the longest since 1994, and improves to 3-5 overall, 2-0 GSAC. The Master’s falls to 7-3, 3-2.

The Cougars pounded out 28 hits on the day and rode the arms of 3 stellar performances on the mound, who combined to give up just 8 runs and 15 hits in 16 innings.

“This was a long time coming,” said Azusa Pacific head coach Paul Svagdis. “The guys have been playing hard and have been in every game we’ve played this year. We finally got a break.”

Making his first start since Feb. 4, Jason Ray was electrifying in the first 4 innings of the opener. He retired all 12 batters he faced, 6 of them by strikeout. But while the Cougars were getting hits off Mustang starter Jeremiah Peters, they were unable to give Ray any support, leaving 6 runners on base in their first 4 at-bats.

The Mustangs then got to Ray in the fifth. Brett Jaime led off with a double, and Tim Murphy then singled to center and advanced to third when the throw from the outfield went home. They then took a 2-0 lead on back-to-back sacrifice flies by Justin Franco and Seth Johnson before Ray got out of the inning.

They added 2 more in the sixth on RBI singles from Jaime and Franco to take a 4-0 lead. Freshman Zach Pettikas then relieved Ray and struck out Seth Johnson with 2 runners on to end the threat.

“All 3 of our pitchers were great today,” said Svagdis. “Ray kept his pitch count down and was throwing strikes. They are a good team, and their good hitters got their barrel on the ball. When you’re throwing 93 to 94 like he does, the ball is going to go somewhere. But when he got in a jam, he didn’t let the game fall apart. He came back and fought and should’ve been out of that inning but our defense let us down. Pettikas and Sisk were just lights out, giving us a chance to get the wins.”

Over the course of the next 3 innings, though, the Cougars came alive. They cut the lead in half on an RBI single by Johnny Soberal, followed by an RBI groundout by Brandon Sisk.

Then after Pettikas threw a perfect seventh, the Cougars scored 4 times in the seventh off reliever Matthew Stone. The big blow came off the bat of freshman James O’Neill, who came off the bench and in his first at-bat delivered a 2-out, 3-run shot to left center field on a 3-2 count to give the Cougars a 6-4 lead they would not relinquish.

“I have been talking to these guys about taking advantage of their opportunities,” said Svagdis. “James has been working hard this year and his chance came, and he took advantage.”

The Cougars added an insurance run in the eighth when Jeff Staniland was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded. The Mustangs added a meaningless run in the ninth before Pettikas closed the door. He threw 3.1 innings, allowing 3 hits (2 of them in the ninth) and 1 run while striking out 5. Ray went 5.2 innings, allowing 4 earned runs and striking out 6.

Scott Hodsdon and Joe Morrison both went 3-for-5. Coba Canales and Soberal each had 2 hits.

The nightcap was all Cougars. They scored 2 in the second on an RBI-single by Soberal and an RBI fielder’s choice by John Ray. The Master’s took advantage of some shaky Cougar defense to score a pair of unearned runs in the fourth, but the Cougars answered with 11 runs in their next 2 at-bats, including a 9-run fifth to put the game away.

The first 4 batters in the fifth reached when Canales and Hodsdon each singled. Stephen Vogt, who extended his streak of reaching base safely to 52 games, had a 2-RBI double off the right center field fence, and Staniland followed with his fourth home run of the season to put the Cougars up 8-2. Later in the inning Hodsdon delivered his first home run of the season, a grand slam to left field to cap the inning.

Sisk was dazzling on the mound. He went the distance, scattering 6 hits, 5 of them singles. He gave up 3 unearned runs (the Cougars committed 4 errors), didn’t allow a walk and struck out 5 to pick up his first win of the season.

Azusa Pacific and The Master’s will make up yesterday’s game, which was rained out, Monday (Feb. 28) at 2 p.m. in Santa Clarita.