AZUSA, Calif. -- Erika Marmolejo’s 2-out, 2-run single down the left field line broke a 5-5 tie and highlighted a 4-run sixth inning that lifted Azusa Pacific to a come-from-behind 8-5 victory and a sweep of Biola University in a Golden State Athletic Conference regular-season doubleheader finale Thursday evening at the Cougar Softball Complex. The Cougars won the first game 11-3 in 5 innings.
While the sweep clinches Azusa Pacific’s first 30-win campaign since 2005, it more importantly jettisoned the Cougars past Concordia University and into sole possession of second place in the GSAC, and with that comes 1 of 2 host berths into next week’s GSAC Postseason Tournament.
“It is absolutely important that we get second place by our self because it leaves no doubt,” said fourth-year Azusa Pacific Head Coach Carrie Webber. “To take second place in this conference – the best in the NAIA – says a lot about this team.”
Azusa Pacific trailed 3-0 in both games, and yet came back to win both, taking advantage of shoddy Biola defense in the first contest, and producing clutch hits in the second game. All the while, eyes were watching the Cal Baptist-Concordia doubleheader in Irvine, which started 2 hours earlier. Azusa Pacific needed a CBU sweep combined with at least one win over Biola to win a tie-breaker with Concordia and secure the No. 2 seed in next week’s GSAC Tourney. The Cougars got the desired result in the first game, with CBU winning 2-0.
Meanwhile in Azusa, the Cougars used a 3-run second inning to knot the first game at 3-all. Natalie Barnaby’s bases-loaded single pushed across 2 runs, and Nicole Llorens followed with a single to center to tie the game.
In the bottom of the third, Azusa Pacific took advantage of 3 Eagle errors to score 6 unearned runs and break open the game with just 2 hits in the frame. Olivia Wilcox’s 2-out double to left-center plated 2 runs that put the Cougars up 8-3 at the time.
Another Eagle error in the fifth led to the Cougars’ tenth run, and when Brandi Andrews ripped a double to left-center, Wilcox raced home from second base with the game-ending run.
Sophomore pitcher Taryn Devich struggled in the early-going but retired 10 of the final 12 batters she faced, allowing just 1 hit over her last 3 innings of work to pick up the win.
In the second game, Azusa Pacific twice had to rally from 3 down and again was a welcome benefactor of a shaky Biola defense.
Trailing 4-1 entering the bottom of the third, Llorens led off with a single up the middle and later came home on a Wilcox single. With 2 outs Jac Harkey lifted a routine fly ball to leftfield that was dropped, allowing Bekah Weisser and Wilcox to score a pair of unearned runs and tie the game at 4 apiece
After throwing 5 innings in the first game, Devich came out of the bullpen in the third inning of the second game and surrendered a run in the top of the fourth that allowed Biola to take a 5-4 lead. Despite a Barnaby leadoff single, the Cougars couldn’t answer in the fourth inning and didn’t come up with the equalizer in the fifth either.
Down to their final 4 outs, the Cougars mounted one of their best rallies of the year. With 2 outs in the sixth and a runner at second, Llorens induced a walk on 5 pitches. Weisser then doubled to left to score Barnaby and tie the game at 5-all, and after Wilcox walked to load the bases, Marmolejo ripped a game-winning double by the Eagle third baseman that scored Llorens and Weisser to put Azusa Pacific up 7-5.
“I think they pitched around Olivia to get to me,” said Marmolejo. “I hadn’t got a hit all game, but I was ready; I knew I was going to get a hit. I was confident and made adjustments from the previous at-bats. She threw me an off-speed screwball, a little slower and I was out in front of it, but I hit it right where I needed to for it to stay fair.”
That was all Devich needed as she closed out the game with 2 of her 6 strikeouts to secure the sweep.
“My arm feels horrible right now,” said Devich with smile after she threw 365 pitches in 22.2 innings of work over a 72-hour span. “I’ll have to ice it for an hour tonight. I’ll really wanted to win these games for our seniors tonight.”
Andrews finished the doubleheader 4-for-7 with a double and 2 RBIs. Wilcox was 3-for-7 with 4 runs and 3 RBIs, while Wiesser finished 2-for-5 with 4 runs and 2BRIs.
Azusa Pacific enters the postseason having won 11 of its past 14 games, which includes decisions over the NAIA’s Nos. 1-, 3-, and 4-ranked teams, and since dropping 4 of 6 games at the Tucson Invitational Games back in mid-March to fall to 13-11 overall, Azusa Pacific has come back to go 17-7.
“The fact that we’re climbing out of that early season funk and working through the adversity that we’ve faced this year speaks well to the character of this team,” said Webber.
The Cougars are now 30-18 on the season and finish GSAC play with a 14-6 record.
The GSAC Tournament opens Tuesday (May 3) at 2 sites – Azusa Pacific and Cal Baptist. Azusa Pacific will host a single-elimination game between Concordia and Hope International University at 5 p.m. with the winner moving on to take on Azusa Pacific in a best 2-of-3 series. The first game is set for 7 p.m. Tuesday. The second game will follow on Wednesday (May 4) at 5 p.m. with the “if necessary” game slated for 7 p.m. The winner of the Azusa Pacific bracket will meet the winner of the Cal Baptist bracket in another best 2-of-3 series in Riverside beginning Thursday (May 5) with the conference’s automatic berth into the NAIA Tournament at stake.
“I don’t know if back in March I could have believed someone if they told me we’d be where we are right now,” said Devich who picked up both wins tonight to run her record to 12-7 on the season. “But here we are now, and playing well.”
Azusa Pacific is 20-6 at home this year and has won 16 of its past 18 at the Cougar Softball Complex, losing only to top-ranked Cal Baptist and No. 3 Cal State San Marcos, teams they also beat in doubleheader contests.
“It’s crucial that we’re home next week considering that we could potentially be playing Concordia,” said Webber. “Playing Concordia on their field is very tough. Playing Azusa Pacific on their field is very tough. So there is definitely a home-field advantage.”