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The First and Last Prevail

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March 29, 2011
Gary Pine
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AZUSA, Calif. -- Azusa Pacific scored in its first at-bat and its last of the night and that was enough for the Cougars to collect a Golden State Athletic Conference doubleheader sweep of Vanguard University, Tuesday evening at the Cougar Softball Complex.

The Cougars scored 3 runs in the first inning of the first game to win by a 3-0 count. Brandi Andrews then registered the Cougars’ final hit of the night, a 2-out single up the middle in the bottom of the sixth inning to score Bekah Weisser from second base and lift Azusa Pacific to a 3-2 victory in the nightcap.

The sweep not only pushes the Cougars home field winning streak to 10 straight but it moves them to a season-best 6 games over .500 at 19-13. More importantly, the 2 wins put Azusa Pacific into sole possession of third place in the GSAC at 4-2.

“It’s really nice to get a sweep against Vanguard; it’s way more satisfying than a split,” chuckled Azusa Pacific Head Coach Carrie Webber. “The girls are coming along very nicely. They are starting to get it. Things are starting to click. It’s nice to see the cohesion start to happen.”

The Cougars wasted no time going after Vanguard pitcher Katharine Jablonski, taking advantage of her early-game wildness to tally 3 runs, all that a pair of Cougar pitchers would need for the rest of the game. Sophomore Angie Sprague opened the frame with a sharp single to center and was safe at second when the Lions opted to get her on Nicole Llorens’ grounder to short. After Weisser walked to load the bases, junior Olivia Wilcox lifted a sacrifice fly to centerfield to score Sprague and put the Cougars up 1-0.

Jablonski issued another free pass to Erika Marmolejo to reload the bases, and when Andrews was hit by a Jablonski offering, Llorens trotted home to double the Cougar advantage to 2-0.

With 2 outs, sophomore Heather Koch ricocheted a sharp single off Jablonski’s glove, 1 of her 3 hits in the game, to score Weisser and complete the game’s scoring before there were 6 outs.

That was all Mariah Worley and Rita Kim needed as the sophomore pitchers, combined on a 5-hit shutout, the Cougars’ seventh goose egg of the season and their third in the past 6 games.

“I didn’t think I had my best stuff today, but we got the win and that’s all that matters,” said Worley, who was making just her ninth start of the season but struck out 4 over 5.2 innings of work to move her record to a team-best 8-3 on the season. “I really didn’t get the inside corner today which sets up my go-to pitch, the curve, which along with my rise, was working.”

“Mariah pitched superbly,” said Webber. “She pitched a great 5 innings, her best 5-inning effort of the season.”

In the second game, the Cougars again scored in the first inning, grabbing an early 2-0 lead on a Weisser double and Wilcox single up the middle.

Cougar hurler Taryn Devich danced in and out of trouble through her first 3 innings, allowing 4 runners to reach second base, none of which scored. However, her risk management finally failed her in the fourth when the Lions parlayed a hit-batsman and back-to-back singles into their first run in 10.2 innings of play on the day.

Kim came out of the bullpen to end that threat, but the Lions tagged the game-tying run on her in the fifth with another set of back-to-back singles that knotted the score at 2-2.

That set up the game-winning heroics of Andrews, who other than her hit-by-pitch that produced a run back in the first inning of the first game, had been having a day to forget. When she came to the plate with 2 on and 2 out in the bottom of the sixth, she had already grounded into an inning-ending double play and had struck out 3 straight times. However, unfazed by her recent struggles, Andrews smacked Stacie Salazar’s first pitch right back up the middle, and Weisser beat centerfield Kari Bergerson’s throw home to clinch the Cougars’ first sweep of Vanguard at home since 2006.

“It was a do-or-die situation, and I felt the pressure,” said Andrews. “It was the bottom of the sixth, there were 2 outs and we had people on base. I had been having a rough game so far, and I knew if I didn’t do it now, I wasn’t ever going to do it. I was looking for a pitch to drive, and I got a pitch to drive.”

“The 5 hitters in the last inning swung like they were trying to rip the cover off the ball,” said Webber. “It was the best at-bats, the best swings, the most confident at-bats we’ve had in a long time.”

Devich and Kim split the game in half, scattering 8 hits while combining to strike out 5. Kim picked up the win to move her record to 6-5.

On the day, Weisser went 4-for-5 with 2 doubles and had a hand in 4 of the Cougars’ 6 runs scored, knocking in 1 and scoring 3. Wilcox was 2-for-5 with 2 RBIs, and Andrews finished 1-for-5 but had 2 RBIs, including the nightcap game-winner.

Azusa Pacific now heads out on the GSAC road, first visiting the NAIA’s No 3-ranked Concordia University in a noon doubleheader on Saturday (April 2) before dropping in on No. 24 Biola University for a 2 p.m. doubleheader next Tuesday (April 5).

“It’s a good time to be going on the road,” said Webber. “We have good momentum going. We have the best scenario we could have going into Saturday -- a winning streak and high confidence.”