AZUSA, Calif. -- Fourth-year Azusa Pacific Head Coach Carrie Webber doesn’t have too many remaining questions after her team’s season-opening sweep of the University of La Verne Friday afternoon. The Cougars covered the full spectrum of performances with a runaway 9-1 win in the opening game, followed by a grind-it-out, come-from-behind 7-4 verdict in the nightcap.
“The first game just kind of happened, it was here and gone,” said Webber. “All of a sudden it was 8 runs, but it was really nice to have that second game where we had to fight and come back to win.”
Sophomore Rachel Miller went 2-for-3 with 5 RBIs in her collegiate debut at shortstop, and fellow sophomore Mariah Worley fired 5.1 innings of shutout relief in the second game to assure that the Cougars remain unbeaten in 11 meetings all-time with their neighbor La Verne.
In the opening game the Cougars parlayed 4 La Verne errors into 5 unearned runs, including 4 in a game-ending 6-run fifth-inning in which a Bekah Weisser double to left-center finally chased Leo ace Delaney Baylor, who until that moment had kept Azusa Pacific off-balance through the first 4 innings.
Back-to-back first inning singles by Nicole Llorens and Weisser were all the safeties Azusa Pacific could produce off Baylor through the first 4 innings, but aided by a hit batsman and an error it was enough to register 3 runs and give the Cougars a quick 3-0 lead.
Cougar pitcher Taryn Devich, last year’s team-leader with 12 wins, labored throughout her day in the circle, and surrendered a 1-out home run to La Verne’s Daryn Schively in the second inning. Though it was the only run Devich allowed, she had to dance out of trouble in every inning except one.
“I expected more out of myself today,” said Devich. “I was average, but our defense was great, making plays behind me. Having a game with no errors is a real key for us, particularly for the first game of the season.”
After Weisser’s double pushed the Cougar advantage to 4-1, the wheels fell off for the Leopards. Leo reliever Carley Asher was welcomed into the game with a passed ball, a dropped fly ball and a booted ground ball. By the time Angie Sprague singled to centerfield to score Brandi Andrews the game was over before Asher could get an out.
In the second game, La Verne tagged Cougar starting pitcher Rita Kim with 3 hits and a couple of walks to sprint out to a quick 4-0 lead in the second inning.
Enter Worley who promptly restored order by retiring 10 of next 12 Leos, stopping the bleeding and allowing the Cougars an opportunity to work their way back into the game, which they did in each of the next 5 innings.
A Miller bloop-single to second base in the bottom of the second scored Olivia Wilcox from second base to get the Cougars on the board. Miller later scored on a Kim squeeze to cut the La Verne lead in half.
A Miller fly ball to left in the third inning scored Llorens to get the Cougars to within in run.
Azusa Pacific tied the game in the fourth when a Llorens 2-out double to the gap in right-center plated Kim.
In the fifth, the Cougars grabbed their first lead of the game. Consecutive 2-out singles by Heather Koch and Kim produced another run when Koch scooted home on Leopard leftfielder Dee Dee Burns’ miss-throw off Kim’s single.
A pair of insurance runs in the sixth inning gave the Cougars some breathing room, which they needed for deep breaths when Worley ran afoul in both the sixth and seventh innings.
In the sixth, La Verne loaded the bases with 1 out, taking advantage of 2 Worley walks and the Cougars’ lone error of the day. Burns, who led La Verne in home runs last year with 10, finally yielded in a long battle with Worley by popping out to her in the circle. Worley then stuck out Mandy Brenner to get out of the jam.
In the top seventh, Worley went one step deeper into a hole, loading the bases with no outs. Perhaps encouraged by her work in the sixth, an emboldened Worley again wiggled out of the jam without surrendering a run, first striking out Shively, then relying on a diving play by Wilcox at third to get another out, before inducing a game-ending ground out.
“I didn’t want to be in that situation again in the seventh inning,” said Worley, “but I was a little more prepared for the pressure having just been in the same situation 10 minutes earlier. Pitchers have to work well under pressure, and I feel like I did that tonight, but I have to improve on the walks and other little things to tighten up my game.”
Worley struck out 3 to pick up the win in relief.
On the day Azusa Pacific pushed across 16 runs on just 14 hits.
“That says we can get runners on, execute and make plays,” said Webber. “They either had to make plays on us or make errors. In the first game they had some errors that helped us. For the first 2 games we did a great job of being aggressive on the base paths and making things happen.”
Weisser was 3-for-6 in the 2 games with an RBI and 3 runs scored. Kim had 2 hits and 3 RBIs.
Now 2-0 on the season, the Cougar have little time to enjoy the season-opening sweep, returning to the diamond on Saturday when they visit Claremont-Scripps for a noon doubleheader.