AZUSA, Calif. -- Trying to put yesterday in the rear view mirror might not have been the easiest goal for some of the Azusa Pacific ballplayers when they arrived at Cougar Field this afternoon for a game against Patten.
But after 3 innings it was a thing of the past.
The Cougars, who were swept in a doubleheader less than 24 hours earlier, scored 3 times in the second inning and then busted out the heavy lumber tallying 8 runs in the third and when on to post a 16-0 win over Patten.
Nick Johnson, put into the second spot in the order in hopes of jump starting the offense, slugged 2 grand slams – the first and second home runs of his collegiate career – to ignite a huge spark for Azusa Pacific.
Johnson finished the day 4-for-4 and he also drew a walk in his finest performance in a Cougar uniform. “Coach says it is always about the process,” said Johnson. “We need to focus on getting the right pitches and then putting a good swing on the ball. We’ve been missing that a little bit.”
Head coach Paul Svagdis moved Johnson into the 2 spot so he could bat Scott Hodsdon clean-up and it paid big dividends. Hodsdon finished 3-for-5 with a pair of run scoring triples.
“We want to get production in the 2 spot and out of our 4-5 guys because we know teams are not going to pitch to (Stephen) Vogt,” said Svagdis. “Our guys need to take advantage and Nick did that today.”
Johnson’s first blast came in the third inning. The frame started with some dubious foreshadowing for the Lions when, with 1-out, Nick Beghtol ripped his second homer of the year over the left field fence off Patten starter Brandon Boyd to give the Cougars a 4-0 lead.
Coba Canales then drew a walk and Johnny Soberal followed with a bouncer to first baseman Clint Bartizal. He spun and threw to second base to force Canales but his throw was in the dirt and couldn’t be picked clean by Kent Morrison. That error proved to be costly because the next batter, James O’Neill, then flew out to centerfield. However, that was only the second out of the frame.
Boyd then walked Kirk Nieuwenhuis to load the bases then promptly beaned Dwight Nixon to force in a run to make it 5-0. Then up stepped Johnson who ripped a fastball over the leftfield fence for his first grand slam of the day. The dugout erupted as the Cougars had broken the game wide open, 9-0.
In the sixth inning, Johnson again stepped to the plate with the sacks full and crushed a no doubter well above the fence into the sunshine beyond the boundaries of the playing field for his second slam of the day which is an NAIA record. He joined 7 other players who have hit 2 grand slams in the same game.
“I was trying to be smart. Sometimes as hitters we are trying to hard to do to much and we need to just focus on putting the ball in play,” he said.
Not be overlooked was the job the pitching staff did. Guy McDowell, Zach Pettikas and Christian Gagne combined on the 4-hit shutout. Pettikas (1-0) earned the win after tossing 4 shutout innings in relief of McDowell.
“It was good to get Zach pitching,” added Svagdis. “It was nice to see him have a clean outing because that bodes well. He worked really well with Vogt behind the plate.”
Gagne rebounded from a rough outing yesterday pitched a scoreless seventh and the staff’s work did not go unnoticed by teammates.
“They didn’t let yesterday get to them and came right back today and got it done,” added Johnson.
With the victory, the Cougars snap a short 2-game losing streak and earn a season series win over the Lions with whom they had split a doubleheader earlier in the season.
Azusa Pacific (8-4) returns to conference play this Saturday when it travels to Westmont for a GSAC doubleheader set for 11 a.m.