AZUSA, Calif. -- Just another ho-hum day at the yard, right?
A lot of offense, a few disputed calls, some yeomen work out of the bullpen, and a little more offense were all interwoven together in 9 innings of GSAC baseball drama and, in the end, Azusa Pacific came away with a 16-9 slugfest win over Vanguard on a warm afternoon at Cougar Field.
The Cougars have now scored 31 runs and banged out 33 hits in their last 2 games at home. This game was crucial for Azusa Pacific as it heads into the final stretch of the regular season.
Offensively speaking, the Cougars had more than a fistful of standouts including 5 players who had at least 3 hits and 5 who drove in 3 runs. The top of the order was particularly potent at the plate as Johnny Soberal, Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Coba Canales were a combined 9-for-16 with 6 runs scored and 8 RBIs.
It was the second straight good game for Soberal in the leadoff spot, a place in the line-up he may have solidified with a 3-hit game.
The ballgame was explosive in parts as both teams used big innings to do the bulk of their scoring work. Vanguard jumped on Cougar starting pitcher Brandon Sisk for 6 runs in the first inning. The Azusa Pacific southpaw gave up 6 runs – getting only 2 outs – before giving way to the bullpen. The relief corps was able to pick up Sisk as they allowed only 3 runs the rest of the way.
In several ways this game was reminiscent of the Cougars battle with Claremont Mudd earlier in the week. The Stags jumped out to a 7-0 lead early only to watch Azusa Pacific hang 8 runs on them in the fourth. The Lions would share a similar fate.
Fighting their way back into the game, the Cougars got back-to-back RBI singles from Chris Cardinale and Soberal in the fourth to cut the Lions’ lead to 7-2. Nieuwenhuis then pulled a double into right to put runners at second and third to set up a 2-run hit by Canales to trim their deficit to 7-4.
The work out of the bullpen by Garrett Lebsock, Ben Jones and Andrew Abell kept the Cougars with striking distance and the offense exploded in the bottom of the eighth.
Azusa Pacific marched 14 men to the plate as it batted around for 10 runs on 11 hits in a showcase of offense that left their deficit in the game as a long distant memory. Nieuwenhuis, along with Titus Lester and James O’Neill drove in 2 runs apiece with knocks in the inning.
Abell earned the win by polishing off the Lions in the ninth and sent the Cougars (22-21, 14-12) into this weekend’s games on a high note.
Azusa Pacific will battle Point Loma Nazarene in a GSAC doubleheader slated for 12 p.m. on Saturday at Cougar Field.