BUENA PARK, Calif. – If Azusa Pacific is truly a Top 25 team, then the Cougars had better take care of business, and at hand today was beating Hope International University, which should be an automatic result but the Royals have displayed notable improvement this season and in the process have surprised a few GSAC teams, including nationally-ranked ones.
The Cougars, and their bats, met expectations, thumping HIU, 13-0 and 9-2, for a Golden State Athletic Conference doubleheader sweep that indeed validates Azusa Pacific’s placing among the elite while producing a sigh of relief for escaping unscathed in 4 games this year vs. Hope International.
In just 12 innings of play today, the Cougars tallied 22 runs, 26 hits, including 8 of the extra-base variety, and held the Royals to just 2 run and 8 hits. Eleven of 13 Cougars who came to the plate got at least 1 hit, and a pair -- Erika Navarrete and Natalie Mickelson -- each collected 4 safeties on the day.
“When we walked off the field after last night’s practice, I knew we were going to clobber the ball today,” said Cougar head coach Carrie Webber. “We just practiced so well, and you can see that it’s coming together more and more for this team as we practice.”
Azusa Pacific wasted no time taking control of the day, scoring 9 runs in the first 2 innings of the first game. Senior Bethany Weisser capped a 5-run first with a 2-run double that put the Cougars up 4-0 at the time. The Cougars tacked on 4 unearned runs in the second, taking advantage of some sloppy Royal fielding after Cassie Treischel and Navarrete led off the frame with back-to-back singles and later scored on a passed ball and error.
Appreciative of the run support, Cougar ace Camille Hundley went to work in the circle and frustrated the Royals with 4 innings of no-hit pitching. In fact, HIU didn’t get its first and only hit of the game until Allison Hofstetter greeted Cougar reliever Sarah Moore with a single to start the fifth inning. Moore though retired the next 3 Royals to close out the game and preserve Hundley’s team-leading tenth win of the campaign.
Weisser went 2-for-3 with 3 RBIs. Mickelson was also 2-for-3 with a pair of RBIs, and 8 of the 9 Cougar starters collected at least 1 hit in the contest.
In the second game, Azusa Pacific picked up right where it left off, scoring 3 first-inning runs, all with 2 outs, by stringing together 4 consecutive singles. Freshman Bekah Weisser highlighted the inning with a single that plated Mickelson and Erin Halma.
Hope touched up Halma, who was in the circle, for a pair of runs to pull to within 4-2 after 3 innings of play. However, Azusa Pacific countered with 3 more runs in the top of the fourth to move out to a comfortable 7-2 lead. Freshman Jeanette Murad, who is seldom used at the plate, made a case for her offensive potential by ripping a double that scored Treischel and Navarrete.
Azusa Pacific finished off the scoring with a Bekah Weisser-laced double that scored pinch runner Allyce Candelaria and Bethany Weisser in the top of the seventh.
“The best part of the day was that from the first inning to the last inning we scored,” said Webber. “We never let down. We never let up. We never lost focus. The girls are realizing what it takes to play intense softball. As a coach, it was a lot of fun to watch today.”
Halma pitched 6.1 innings to pick up the game 2 victory and improve to 4-6 on the season.
Navarette finished the day 4-for-6 with 4 and is now batting a career-high .253 on the season (a team-best .463 – 17-for-39 -- in GSAC play). Mickelson was 4-for-7 with a 2 doubles and 3 RBIs, and Halma closed a fine day at the plate by going 3-for-6 with 4 runs scored and a pair of RBIs.
Now 19-18 overall, 9-5 in the GSAC, Azusa Pacific, which is ranked No. 21 in the NAIA, returns home Tuesday (April 8) to host No. 2 Point Loma Nazarene University a 4 p.m. GSAC doubleheader.
“We’re as ready as we’ve been all season to face the nation’s No. 2 team,” said Webber. “There is no sense of dread in this team. They’re excited, and I’m excited just by how we’re playing.”