AZUSA, Calif. –- A pair of freshmen bookended sterling performances by 5 seniors and in the process offered hope for the future while giving an appropriate send off for the most experienced senior class in Azusa Pacific softball history.
Freshman Erin Halma lifted a single to shallow left-centerfield that scored senior Justine Barnett from second base with no outs in the bottom of the seventh to give Azusa Pacific a 3-2 victory over Concordia in the nightcap of the season-ending GSAC doubleheader. Concordia won the first game, 10-1.
Halma’s heroic performance was available because of the pitching performance of freshman Bre Anderson, who fashioned her finest effort of the season, scattering 6 hits and holding Concordia just 1 run through 6 innings.
Meanwhile, the Cougar seniors accounted for all 3 runs and registered for 7 of the team’s 10 hits. In fact, 3 of them got hits in their final collegiate at-bats.
Halma’s hit, her only safety of the day, capped a seventh inning in which Barnett led off with an infield single and advanced to second when Eagle shortstop Caitlyn Senkbeil mishandled senior Tami Carter’s grounder. Halma took Rachel Reekstin’s first offering to the opposite field, lifting a shallow fly ball that caromed off the glove-tip of a stretched-out Eagle centerfielder Ashley Evans. Barnett had to hold near second base until assured that Evans wouldn’t make a sensational grab, and then circled toward home with the game-winning run, narrowly beating the relay throw.
Azusa Pacific took a 1-0 lead in the third inning. Seniors Courtney Cleaves and Barnett knocked back-to-back 2 outs singles and when Eagle first baseman Alex Ariaz booted Halma’s ground ball, Barnett raced home with the game’s first run.
Concordia tied the game in the fourth inning on Natalie Brown’s 2-out single to center that scored Senkbeil. However, Azusa Pacific answered in the bottom half of the fifth when Carter launched a double off the right-center wall to easily score senior Lori Shimasaki from second base and give the Cougars’ a 2-1 advantage.
Anderson, who needed less than 55 pitches to get through 6 innings, was lifted at the start of the seventh inning in favor of sophomore hurler Camille Hundley, who was 1 strike away from her first save of the season, but instead she yielded a game-tying infield single that allowed pinch runner Ashley Fama to score from third base.
In the first game, Concordia scored 3 runs first-inning runs, including 2 of the unearned variety, to take a quick 3-0 lead. That was more than enough for Concordia pitcher Natalie Brown, who worked around 6 Cougar hits and struck out 3 in the process while not walking a batter. Her only mistake of the game was a 3-2 offering to Cougar catcher Natalie Mickelson, who slugged her team-leading sixth home run over the left-centerfield wall to make it 3-1 in the fourth inning.
Concordia added single runs in the fifth and sixth innings and then blew the game open with 5 more runs, all with 2 outs, in the seventh inning. Nubia Engriquez missed a grand slam by less than 3 inches and instead settled for a bases-clearing double to highlight the frame.
Shimasaki stole a base in each game, but it was her first-inning swipe of second base in the second game that brought the partisan crowd to its feet, congratulating the Cougars’ 3-year starting centerfielder on her school-record setting 73rd steal of her career, breaking Liz Campbell’s (1992-95) former career standard of 72.
Barnett finished the day 4-for-7 with a pair of hits in each game and concludes her best season as a Cougar with a .305 batting average. Carter was 3-for-8 and finishes the season the team-leading .365 average. And though Cleaves had just 1 hit on the day – in her final collegiate at-bat – she made 3 excellent running catches in right field, including one in which she doubled up Brown trying to advance to third base in the second inning of the second game.
Fellow senior Jessi Besseghini had a hit in each game, including one in her final at-bat as well.
All told, the 5 seniors, 4 of whom arrived together at Azusa Pacific as 2004 freshmen, played in a combined 676 games during their Cougar careers. They walk away from their collegiate careers as winners in their final game, as does Cougar head coach Lori Kwiatkowski, who last week announced that she was resigning at the close of the season in order to return to her native New Jersey home to be near her family.
Azusa Pacific finishes the season at 15-25 for its first sub-.500 campaign since 1994. The Cougars were 5-19 in GSAC play. Concordia, which closes out its season Saturday (April 28), moves to 31-18 on the season, 8-14 in the GSAC.