AZUSA, Calif. – When down in the dumpers and all you can manage is 1 run in 29 innings of play, there is no better person to call upon than Natalie Mickelson.
The junior catcher out of Los Alamitos, Calif., knocked in 4 runs and produced a single, a double and a rare triple to lead Azusa Pacific to a GSAC-opening doubleheader sweep of Hope International University, 6-2 and 9-3, at the Cougar Softball Complex Tuesday evening.
It marks the first time since 2003 that the Cougars open GSAC play with a pair of victories.
The Cougars came into the doubleheader mired in a 4-game losing streak in which they had scored just 1 run in the previous 29 innings of play, and even that tally was the result of a wild pitch. Tonight, however, they were a hitting machine again, producing 20 safeties in just 12 innings at the plate.
Mickelson led the offensive onslaught and wasted no time changing the complexion of the Azusa Pacific attack, lining a 2-out double to the right center field wall in the first inning of the first game to score Erika Navarrete and give the Cougars a quick 1-0 lead.
In her next at-bat, Mickelson launched a deep fly ball to center field that scored Navarrete again, this time from third base. And though Hope International tied the game at 2-2 on Allison Hofstetter’s 2-out, fourth-inning double, there was no question that this was a different Cougar team than the one that lost 2 at Cal State San Marcos on Satuarday and 2 more at home to Lee University yesterday.
In the bottom of the fourth, Azusa Pacific answered Hope’s challenge with 3 more runs, all unearned because of a Hoffstetter 2-out fielding error at short. Navarrete, who was already enjoying her best game as a Cougar, ripped a bases-loaded single down the leftfield line to score Nicole Llorens and Bethany Weisser. Jen Whitten then trotted home on Cassie Treischel’s double to put Azusa Pacific up 5-2.
Cougar ace Camille Hundley now had more than enough cushion to lock down Hope International the rest of the way, picking up her fifth win in 8 decisions this year. The junior right-hander retired 9 of the final 12 batters she faced. She struck out 6 and did not walk a Royal while scattering 7 hits.
Azusa Pacific blew open the nightcap with a 6-run second inning, taking advantage of 3 Royal errors to score 5 unearned runs. Treischel’s first-ever collegiate triple, a rope down the right field line, highlighted the explosion by scoring Navarrete and Whiten.
Mickelson plated 3 more runs in the Cougar fourth when she too ripped a triple to right field, scoring Navarrete and Llorens and then trotting home herself when Royal right fielder Carissa Wood overthrew the cut off.
In only her second start as a Cougar, sophomore pitcher Sarah Moore registered her first complete-game effort of the season, allowing just 1 earned run while striking out a pair of Royals.
Navarette capped her finest evening as a Cougar by going 4-for-6 with 4 runs and 2 RBIs. Mickelson was 3-for-6 with 4 RBIs, while the freshman Treischel went 4-for-8 with 3 RBIs, 2 doubles and a triple.
With the sweep, Azusa Pacific improves to 8-7 on the season, 2-0 in the GSAC. Hope International falls to 5-4 overall, 0-2 in the GSAC.