AZUSA, Calif. -- Though it was the freshmen who led the way, it took the clutch performance of a veteran to give unranked Azusa Pacific a most stunning upset sweep of the NAIA’s No. 2-ranked Point Loma Nazarene University.
The Cougars downed Point Loma Nazarene, 3-0 and 3-2, in a Golden State Athletic Conference doubleheader at the Cougar Softball Complex Tuesday evening and in the process joined top-ranked California Baptist University as the only schools to beat the Sea Lions this season.
Yet, the sweep didn’t come easy and it wasn’t without a flare of drama.
Senior second baseman Nicole Llorens 1-out single up the middle scored pinch-runner Rita Kim from third base to cap an improbable 3-run, seventh-inning comeback in the nightcap to secure the surprising twinbill sweep. It was Llorens’ first hit in conference play this season, and it could not have come at a more opportune time.
The Cougars entered the frame down 2-0, but freshman Rachel Miller led off the inning with a double in the right-centerfield gap of Sea Lion pitcher Hannah Faria, who up to that point had shut out the Cougars on just 3 hits while striking out 7 through 6 innings of work.
Fellow freshman Jac Harkey followed with a single to center to score Miller and cut the Cougar deficit in half.
Kim came on to run for Picone and moved to second base on sophomore Natalie Barnaby’s single up the middle, setting the stage for Llorens, who up to this point had gone 0-for-39 at the plate in GSAC play. Nonetheless, Llorens has fashioned a reputation in her 3-year Cougar career for producing in clutch situations, and she did again by lining a 1-1 offering back up the middle for the game-winning hit.
Llorens’ game-winning hit capped a marvelous effort by Cougar freshmen pitchers Mariah Worley and Taryn Devich, who combined to hold the Sea Lions to just 2 runs while striking out 4 and not walking a batter.
Worley, who started the game, yielded just 4 hits through 5.1 innings work, getting out of a minor jam in the fourth inning when Barnaby, from her centerfield position, threw out a Sea Lion at home plate. However, Point Loma got to a tiring Worley with 4 straight hits in the sixth inning, including a double over Barnaby’s head, to take a 2-0 lead, which stood until the fateful seventh.
Devich picked up the win in relief, working a perfect seventh inning, to move her record to 9-5 on the season.
In the opening game, Kim, just a freshman, fashioned the finest game on her young pitching career, shutting out Point Loma with a complete-game, 5-hit effort that included 6 strikeouts. The diminutive hurler put together a gritty effort in which she enjoyed just 3 1-2-3 innings and had Sea Lions in scoring position in the other 4 frames, including the seventh when Point Loma loaded the bases. Kim, however, preserved her second shutout of the season by inducing a game-ending ground-out.
Kim got all the offensive held she needed in Azusa Pacific’s first inning when Miller laid a perfect bunt to score Angie Sprague on a risky yet successful 2-out suicide squeeze.
The Cougars added 2 more runs in the fifth inning, putting together 3 singles and taking advantage of a Sea Lion error to move out to a 3-0 lead. Erin Halma’s 2-out, bases-loaded infield single scored Koch and when the Sea Lions threw away the ball Barnaby came home as well with an unearned run.
That was enough for Kim who picked up her fourth win in 9 decisions this season.
Halma finished the day 3-for-6 with an RBI. Sprague, Miller and Harkey all had a pair of hits, including a pair of doubles by Miller.
With the sweep, Azusa Pacific improves to 19-13 overall and 6-6 in GSAC play. Point Loma falls to 18-4 overall and 8-4 in GSAC play, just 2 games ahead of the Cougars for second place in the GSAC and a potential first-round bye in the GSAC Postseason Tournament in May.