AZUSA, Calif. -- Heather Koch’s first career home run broke a scoreless tie midway through the opening game of Azusa Pacific’s 4-0, 6-1 doubleheader sweep over Lake Superior State Tuesday evening.
With two outs in the bottom of the fourth, after the Cougars had already stranded five runners in the first three innings, Koch calmly worked the count to 1-2 before driving the next pitch over the left-field fence. Her solo shot was the first of her career, and it gave Azusa Pacific all the cushion it needed in the 4-0 opening-game win. Junior rightfielder Brandi Andrews added a pair of insurance runs an inning later with a two-run shot of her own, also with two outs.
“It was nice to get the run production we did get tonight, and it was great for Heather to hit that first home run of her career tonight,” Cougar head coach Carrie Webber said. “Brandi came up clutch, as well, and hopefully we’re just wiping off a little four-day rust, and we’ll get after it tomorrow with a little more consistency and explosiveness.”
Junior Mariah Worley retired six straight batters after walking the leadoff hitter in the top of the sixth to preserve the shutout she inherited from b>Taryn Devich, who fired five scoreless innings to improve to 4-2 on the season. Worley closed out the opener with a perfect three-pitch seventh for her first save of the year.
“Our pitching was better today than last week, but we’re still looking for a little more consistency in hitting the right spots,” Webber said. “The more consistent we are with our spots, the easier it will be to get some of those close calls. Mariah did a good job coming on in relief to do the job she needed to do.”
In the 6-1 nightcap win, the Cougars got three early runs in the first two innings, gaining a lead that was more than suitable for Game 2 starting pitcher Rita Kim, who threw five scoreless two-hit innings with eight strikeouts in the victory. Worley, who entered the game in the sixth with a 3-0 lead, fired another two innings of relief to pick up her second save of the day, and senior first baseman Erika Marmolejo put the game out of reach with a two-out bases-loaded double that scored all three runners and gave the Cougars a five-run lead heading into the final frame.
“Erika’s hit was an example of good situational hitting, although we haven’t done a good job these last several games of attacking that first-pitch strike or recognizing the situational hitting opportunities we’re in,” Webber said. “Making those adjustments at the plate is something we’re continuing to overcome.”
It was Koch again who got the Azusa Pacific offense rolling in the nightcap. In the bottom of the first, after moving up to third in the lineup for the second game, Koch laced a one-out single through the right side to score Angie Sprague, and Andrews pushed Koch across with a two-out first-inning single through the right side.
In the second inning, junior third baseman Rachel Miller reached on a leadoff infield single to shortstop. During the ensuing at-bat, Miller stole second and moved to third on a wild pitch, and she rounded third at full speed when Lake Superior State left the plate uncovered after the wild pitch. Miller slid underneath the tag to make it a 3-0 game in the second inning.
The Cougars didn’t score again until after the Lakers scored a lone run in the sixth inning, cutting the Azusa Pacific lead to 3-1, but Marmolejo’s liner to center tailed away from centerfielder Karrie Jaynes and rolled safely to the warning track for the bases-clearing double that pushed the lead to 6-1. Worley was perfect in the seventh again to pick up her second save.
Koch extended her hitting streak to a team-high nine games, and she is batting.500 (13-for-26) during the nine-game stretch, which now includes her first collegiate home run. Last week, Koch tripled with the Cougars down to their final out of the nightcap, coming around to score on the same play when an error occurred during the relay throw.
Five Cougar hitters, Koch included, registered hits in both games of Tuesday’s sweep. The others were Andrews, junior catcher Jac Harkey, Miller, and senior shortstop Natalie Barnaby. Meanwhile, Azusa Pacific’s junior pitching trio of Devich, Worley, and Kim combined for 12 scoreless innings until Lake Superior State scored its lone run of the day with a two-out walk and single that pushed the run across.
The Lakers’ Allison Traczyk was the only player on her team with multiple hits in the opener, and Lake Superior designated player Brandi Anderson accounted for three of her team’s four hits in the nightcap.
With the sweep, Azusa Pacific snaps a string of three consecutive doubleheader splits and improves to 13-3 overall. Lake Superior drops to 3-3 as it hits the midway point of a nine-game, six-day trip through southern California.
“It’s a nice feeling to be able to know we’re going to put up a very good outing, because when we step out on the field, we expect the team to play well and to win,” Webber said. “You don’t always get that type of mentality with every team you coach, so we’re in a very good position with what we do know about this group’s willingness to put up a good fight.”
The Cougars are back in action to host Bethel (Ind.) Wednesday and Felician (N.J.) Saturday, continuing a season-long stretch of six consecutive home doubleheaders.