AZUSA, Calif. – By comparison Erin Halma is a grey-haired veteran. She alone has played in more collegiate games than 14 of her teammates -- combined. Thus, she understands there may be times this season that she has to carry her team. Tonight was one of those times.
Halma flared a 2-out, 2-0 pitch into shallow leftfield in the bottom of the seventh inning to score Nicole Llorens from second base and lift Azusa Pacific to a 3-2 victory over Simpson University, clinching the Cougars’ first doubleheader sweep of the young campaign. Azusa Pacific won the first game, 6-4.
Halma’s walk-off single, her third hit of the game, gave her the win from the pitcher’s circle as well, where she worked 6.2 innings of 6-hit softball, surrendering just 2 runs to pick her first win of the season and the 25th of her 4-year Cougar career.
“I was just really glad they moved their outfielders back,” said Halma of her game-winning hit which narrowly avoided the outstretched glove of a diving Simpson leftfielder Candice Vallerga. “I thought she had caught it when I rounded first. Then I saw the ball bobbled on the ground.”
Halma’s hit capped a comeback in which the Cougars scored single runs in the bottom of the sixth and seventh innings. It appeared for awhile through that on the strength of Halma’s pitching the Cougars would need just the one run they scored in the first inning when Bekah Weisser’s ground out plated freshman Angie Sprague from third base.
Halma shut out the Redhawks on just 2 hits through the first 5 innings, stranding runners at third base in the second and fourth innings. However, in the sixth, Simpson touched Halma for 4 singles to take a 2-1 lead. With 2 on and 2 out, Halma was lifted for freshman Rita Kim, who did her job by getting Simpson’s Corinne Alexander to ground to end the threat.
“Rita really stepped up by getting that one out,” said Halma. “It may not look like much but it was one of the bigger things that happened in the game where she stopped them from scoring more runs and allowing the game to get out of hand.”
In the bottom half of the sixth, Weisser and freshman Jac Harkey put together back-to-back 1-out singles and Erika Marmolejo induced a walk to load the bases. Weisser then came home on a wild pitch to tie the game. Halma returned to the action in the bottom of the sixth at the plate and then resumed her spot in the pitcher’s circle for the seventh.
“I focused on getting my pitches more out when I returned in the seventh,” said Halma. “I noticed that’s what Rita did to get her batter out. I had the ball low in the sixth, but I was in too much, getting too much of the plate which allowed them to hit the ball.”
In the opening game, Azusa Pacific rolled out to a 6-1 lead, scoring in each of the first 4 innings while riding the strong pitching of freshman Taryn Devich, who held the Red Hawks to 1 run while striking out 6.
Weisser’s 2-out single to the left-center gap scored Sprague and Llorens to put the Cougars up 2-0 in the first.
Freshman Brandi Andrews’ run-scoring triple followed by a Weisser sacrifice fly moved the Cougar lead 5-0 in the third. A Llorens’ triple scored Kim to make it 6-0 in the fourth before the Redhawks began to touch up Devich and reliever Mariah Worley.
Simpson fashioned 6 hits over a 3-inning stretch to score 4 runs, and it could have been much more had it not been for some clutch Cougar defense that forced the Red Hawks to strand 6 runners in scoring position. Worley wiggled out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the fifth by allowing just one run, and then left the tying run at second base in the sixth when she induced a short pop up to Weisser at third.
“I don’t care what team it is, this is a confidence booster for us to win 2 games,” said Cougar Coach Carrie Webber, “especially coming back from being down in the second game. It showed the fight in us.”
Along with Halma, Marmolejo also had 3 hits on the night. Weisser had 2 hits and 4 RBIs for the twinbill while Llorens had 2 hits, including a 2-out double to leftfield in the seventh inning to set up Halma’s game-winning hit in the nightcap.
“Nicole had a great night at the plate,” said Webber. “She was relaxed, and she was exactly the person I wanted at the plate with 2 outs in the bottom of the seventh. Her getting that double was not a surprise.”
With the sweep, Azusa Pacific improves to 3-1 while Simpson falls to 1-3, having played 4 game today, including 2 at a tournament at California Baptist.