AZUSA, Calif. -- After giving up five runs in the opening inning of Wednesday’s doubleheader with Bethel (Ind.) College, the NAIA’s No. 11-ranked Azusa Pacific overcame a 6-0 defeat against one of the toughest pitchers it’s faced all year to rally for a 6-2 win in the nightcap against the No. 12-ranked Pilots Wednesday afternoon in Azusa.
With a five-run cushion under her belt before she threw her first pitch, Bethel freshman pitcher Natalie Newell was practically untouchable in the first collegiate pitching assignment of her young career. Newell struck out 11 and scattered five hits, turning a tempting rise ball into her signature pitch in the complete-game shutout. Newell did not pitch at No. 8-ranked Concordia Monday, as Bethel’s scheduled season-opening doubleheader was shortened to a single game due to rain.
“Newell didn’t overwhelm us with speed, but she did a very good job hitting her spots,” Cougar head coach Carrie Webber said. “She had a little bit of movement on that rise ball and we just could not lay off of it. Sometimes you just have games where everything looks good and you swing at it, and you just hope it’s not contagious with the rest of the girls, but in that first game today, it was. Obviously she had something that made her one of the best pitchers we’ve faced this season.”
Bethel batted all the way through the lineup in the opening frame, drawing a pair of one-out walks before scoring its first run on a squeeze bunt, and a two-run Katrina Klingberg single was followed by two Cougar errors that helped contribute to the five-run outburst. Later in the game, Klingberg’s fifth-inning triple led to another Bethel run, and Newell took care of the rest by recording all 11 of her strikeouts over the final six frames, including a three-strikeout seventh.
“An inning like (the first) changes the game a lot,” Webber said. “With a team like ours, you feel like there’s a lot of time with seven innings to score some runs, but Newell threw really well and we just couldn’t hit her.”
The Pilots struck first in the nightcap, as well, when a one-out walk issued by junior pitcher Taryn Devich was followed by a wild pitch, stolen base, and another wild pitch that brought Kelsey Ericksen around to score and push Bethel ahead, 1-0. With one on and one out in the bottom of the first, junior leftfielder Heather Koch drilled a 2-0 pitch to right-center for an RBI double that scored Angie Sprague from first base to tie the game at 1-1.
“We got that clean slate, and after Bethel scored in the first inning we answered with a run and continued to peck away at them,” Webber said. “I finally felt like we put runs on the board like we’re capable of doing and I know we should be doing.”
Koch, who had her team-high nine-game hitting streak snapped by Newell in the first game, bounced back with a two-for-three, three-RBI performance in the second game. She drove in another run in the third inning that gave Azusa Pacific the lead for good, knocking in Natalie Barnaby with a line-drive sacrifice fly to deep left that set off a four-run frame for the Cougars. Senior first baseman Erika Marmolejo highlighted the five-hit inning with her second home run of the season, a two-run shot to left-center just two pitches after Koch’s sacrifice fly. Two batters later, senior second baseman Leslie-Anne Picone added a two-out RBI double that pushed the lead to 5-1.
“Our team settled down in the second game and attacked the ball on defense to get the outs we needed to get,” Webber said. “Taryn threw a really good game, and it obviously helps when our pitchers throw strikes and keep us in the ballgame that way. The girls continued to attack at the plate, without being discouraged by that first game. To come out and make those changes and get the win was encouraging.”
In the bottom of the fourth, each of the first four Cougars to the plate put the first pitch they saw in play, and the last of them was Koch’s RBI single up the middle that extended the margin to 6-1 and knocked Bethel starting pitcher Kendra Zache out of the game. Bethel brought Newell back in at that point, and she finished the game with another 2.2 shutout frames, although she struck out only one more and walked two in the relief appearance.
Devich recovered nicely from the shaky first inning, finishing with nine strikeouts while scattering four hits in the complete-game victory. Eight Cougar starters recorded hits, including two hits each for Koch and Barnaby. Junior third baseman Rachel Miller walked twice and recorded a hit in her other at-bat in the second game, and she was one of the four players who was able to register a hit off Newell in the first game.
Klingberg led the Bethel offense in the first game, batting three-for-four with two runs and two RBIs, but she was hitless in the second game. In fact, Jenny Hedrick was the Pilots’ only batter to hit safely in both games of the twinbill.
After the split, Azusa Pacific is now 14-4 overall, while Bethel is now 1-2 on the year. The Cougars are back in action with another home doubleheader Saturday at noon, taking on NCAA Division II’s Felician (N.J.) College.
“The reason we scheduled programs like Bethel and (2010 NCAA Div. II national champion) Bethel, as well as some of the teams we faced in Redding and Tucson, was to prepare us for our conference,” Webber said. “It’s very valuable to see good teams, compete with them, and win. We’ve seen some of the best of the best in NCAA Division II, Division III and the NAIA, and doing a good job with this preseason schedule will hopefully carry us into our conference schedule with a little bit of confidence.”
The Cougars open up Golden State Athletic Conference play in just over two weeks, visiting Hope International after taking on eight more non-conference opponents over an 11-day stretch.