REDDING, Calif. -- Early-season tournaments have not been kind to Azusa Pacific softball in recent years, but an upperclass-laden roster helped lead the NAIA’s No. 11-ranked Cougars to wins in all three of its games Friday at the Simpson Tournament in Redding.
Two years ago, a preseason tournament in Medford, Ore., featured many of the same programs Azusa Pacific is facing this weekend, and that year the Cougars lost five of six games at the two-day event. Last year, they went 2-4 in a two-day tournament in Tucson, Ariz.
“I don’t think we play that great on the road, especially when you put us in adverse weather conditions like the cold or the rain,” Cougar head coach Carrie Webber said. “Knowing what happened in Tucson and Oregon the past two years, and having a little more mature and experienced team this year, it was good to see that even though they struggled a little bit, they battled through it. Today we had some trouble in the first few innings, but we started to pick it up. It’s nice to see that turnaround from where we were two years ago.”
On Friday, Azusa Pacific rallied late to edge Southern Oregon, 3-2, before picking up mercy-rule victories over Eastern Oregon (8-0 in six innings) and British Columbia (15-6 in five innings).
“I thought we played really well, and we got better as the day went on,” Webber said. “Playing three games a day is a good test to see where we are, and the team is on a really good roll right now.”
In the opener, Rita Kim fired the complete-game win, while it was junior outfielder Rachel Miller who brought in the game-winning run with two outs in the top of the seventh when she dropped a bunt single down the third base line to score Heather Koch from third base.
In the 8-0 win over Eastern Oregon, junior pitcher Mariah Worley collected the shutout victory, while senior shortstop Leslie-Anne Picone blasted two home runs, the second and third of her career, to lead the Cougar offense.
In game three, a 15-6 win over British Columbia, the Cougars gave up four runs in the first two innings, but senior third baseman Olivia Wilcox hit a pair of home runs, her second and third of the season, to bolster the Azusa Pacific offense in a five-inning mercy-rule victory. Junior pitcher Taryn Devich collected the win with the complete-game effort.
With the win, Azusa Pacific is off to its best start since 2005, when it won 10 of 11 to start the campaign. The Cougars are currently 6-1, with three more games scheduled Saturday to wrap up the tournament, including a matchup with defending NAIA champion and currently top-ranked Oregon Tech.
Official stats were not made available.