AZUSA, Calif. -- Offense hasn't been a problem during Azusa Pacific's current 11-game winning streak, and that trend continued for the NAIA's No. 11-ranked Cougars in a 9-0, 7-0 doubleheader sweep over Webster (Mo.) University Saturday afternoon in Azusa.
The sweep wrapped up a whirlwind week which sandwiched four games in Tucson between Azusa Pacific’s home doubleheaders on Tuesday and Saturday. The common theme throughout the Cougars’ eight-victory week was a potent offense, one which combined for a .444 team batting average with 70 runs of offense on the strength of 32 extra-base hits on the week.
“I knew this would be a tough week for the team physically, to keep up with the demands of the week with the travel, but we ended up where I expected us to be,” Cougar head coach Carrie Webber said. “It’s nice for them to be able to get tomorrow off and get a little rest, because at this point we don’t know if it’s Saturday or Tuesday.”
On Saturday, junior rightfielder Brandi Andrews was three-for-three in the opener and smacked her fourth home run of the season in the second inning of the second game, extending her hitting streak to a team-high 15 games. Senior shortstop Natalie Barnaby was four-for-five on the day with a bases-clearing triple in the opener along with an inside-the-park home run in game two, her second inside-the-park homer of the season.
“We know that one through nine in our lineup can go up to the plate with the potential to drive in runs, get base hits, hit the ball over the fence, or whatever we need,” Webber said. “We really don’t have a weak spot, and no matter who’s up, you know that spot is going to produce.”
Meanwhile, junior pitcher Taryn Devich tossed a five-inning one-hitter, with the lone hit allowed a slow roller along the third-base line she just couldn't reach in time to deliver a throw to first. Devich's gem was followed by a combined shutout from fellow juniors Mariah Worley and Rita Kim. Worley escaped a bases-loaded jam with no outs in the second inning with a pair of groundouts that allowed the Cougars to cut down the lead runner at the plate before coming up with an inning-ending strikeout.
Worley struck out seven in six scoreless frames, and Kim struck out a pair in a scoreless seventh to put the finishing touches on Azusa Pacific's third consecutive shutout while extending the Cougars' scoreless streak to 17 consecutive shutout innings. Devich has thrown four consecutive shutouts, all of the five-inning mercy-rule variety, allowing two hits or fewer in each of those starts to extend her own streak of consecutive scoreless innings to 22 shutout frames in a row.
“Our pitching staff has been together three years now, and they tend to progress as the season goes on,” Webber said. “Early in the year, they were a little more inconsistent but as we get into the season they really seem to come into their own. They’re a little more consistent around the strike zone, and the ball breaks and works for them better.”
After plating a pair of runs in the first inning of the opening game, Azusa Pacific scored six in the third including three on Barnaby’s two-out triple into the left-center field gap to take an 8-0 lead. In the top of the fourth, Webster recorded its only hit of the game when Tabatha Bahre tapped a slow roller down the third-base line, where no Cougar could field it in time for a throw to first.
The infield hit wrecked Devich’s no-hit bid, although she retired the final six Gorlok hitters to pick up the win and improve to 9-2 on the year.
In the second game, it was Andrews’ one-out solo home run in the second inning that opened up the scoring, and Barnaby’s leadoff bunt single in the third set up another two runs that pushed the Cougars ahead, 3-0. After Rachel Miller drew a leadoff walk in the bottom of the fourth, Barnaby knocked a line drive into the right-center field gap, and she raced all the way around the bases for the inside-the-park home run that made it a 5-0 Cougar lead.
Barnaby also recorded a leadoff bunt single in the sixth, starting another two-run frame that rounded out the scoring in the 7-0 Cougar win. Webster only hit the ball out of the infield twice in the second game, once on a second-inning single up the middle and the other on a fourth-inning lineout to center field. Worley surrendered four hits, three of them infield hits, and she walked one while recording seven strikeouts in her ninth victory this season.
The Cougars host Dakota Wesleyan on Tuesday at 4 p.m. in the final non-conference tuneup before Golden State Athletic Conference play, which kicks off for Azusa Pacific with a visit to Hope International next Saturday (March 17).
“Going into a conference week doesn’t change anything for us,” Webber said. “We’ve approached our non-conference games as though every one of them is the best team we’ll play this year, and every game matters for us in terms of whether or not we’ll make it to the national tournament. Our approach shouldn’t be any different, but hopefully our non-conference games have prepared us to peak during conference play.”
With the sweep, Azusa Pacific improves to 24-4 overall, while Webster’s early-season record now stands at 3-3.