GULF SHORES, Ala. -- Before Azusa Pacific had even started Saturday’s pool play finale against Oklahoma City, the Cougars were already aware that their only chance of advancing into next week’s 8-team championship bracket would come by virtue of tiebreaking procedures that required Azusa Pacific to win by at least 4 runs.
Oklahoma City ace Lily LaVelle fired 6 strong shutout frames before giving up the Cougars’ only run in the seventh, firing a complete-game 3-hitter with 12 strikeouts to lead the Stars past Azusa Pacific, 4-1.
When LaVelle held the Cougars to a scoreless sixth to keep Oklahoma City’s 4-0 lead intact, the only possible scenario in which Azusa Pacific would pick up the 4-run win would have involved first tying the game before loading the bases again for a grand slam home run. Despite those slim odds, the Cougars battled all the way to their final out, getting their first 2 runners on base in the bottom of the seventh and later loading the bases with 2 outs. That set up the lone run for Azusa Pacific, which pinch-runner Lindsay Clark scored on a 2-out wild pitch to senior third baseman Bekah Weisser.
A flyout to center ended the game, wrapping up one of the most successful softball seasons in recent program history. Azusa Pacific finished 33-23, posting its highest single-season win total since 2003 and making its first NAIA Tournament appearance in over a decade. Once there, the Cougars opened the tournament with a 9-7 win over St. Thomas (Fla.), a game that put Azusa Pacific into the national tournament record books with the most doubles (8) in a game.
Azusa Pacific’s hits came from sophomore centerfielder Angie Sprague, sophomore catcher Jac Harkey, and junior shortstop Natalie Barnaby. LaVelle also issued 3 walks, but she retired the first 6 Cougar hitters and recorded 6 of her 12 strikeouts with runners on base. Azusa Pacific threatened in the third when Harkey drew a leadoff walk and Barnaby hit a 1-out double to right to put runners at second and third with 1 out in the inning. LaVelle struck out back-to-back hitters to get out of trouble, and in the fourth and fifth innings she struck out the next batter she faced after putting 2 runners on base with 1 out.
In the seventh, Harkey led off with a single to left-center, and sophomore leftfielder Heather Koch was hit by pitch before a flyout and strikeout put Azusa Pacific just 1 out away from elimination. Senior second baseman Nicole Llorens drew a walk to load the bases, and a wild pitch by LaVelle moved each of the runners up one base to end the shutout bid with 2 outs in the seventh inning.
Oklahoma City scored once in the first inning, twice in the third, and once more in the fifth to build a 4-0 lead after 5 innings. Sophomore pitchers Taryn Devich and Rita Kim allowed just1 earned run each, although they also surrendered a combined 15 hits in 7 innings of work.
Oklahoma City advances into the 8-team double-elimination championship bracket as the Pool H champion, and the Stars take on the winner of Pool A, which is California Baptist, in the opening game of the double-elimination bracket Monday morning.