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Leaving A Blank Impression

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Photo by April Reed
Azusa Pacific has registered 28 consecutive shutout innings as the Cougars head into Golden State Athletic Conference play beginning Saturday.

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March 13, 2012
Joe Reinsch
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AZUSA, Calif. -- Rita Kim’s five-inning two-hitter and Mariah Worley’s six-inning three-hitter led the NAIA’s No. 11-ranked Azusa Pacific to a 9-0, 8-0 doubleheader sweep over Dakota Wesleyan (S.D.) Tuesday evening.

The back-to-back shutouts extended the Cougars’ streak of consecutive scoreless innings to 28 shutout frames, and it also extended Azusa Pacific’s current winning streak to 13 games.

“The wins we’ve had lately show that know that no matter where we step on the field, if it’s 34 degrees in Tucson or 90 degrees somewhere else, the girls will be ready to play,” Cougar head coach Carrie Webber said.

Senior SS Natalie Barnaby, who batted .667 (16-for-24) last week and earned GSAC Player of the Week honors for her performance, collected another four hits in five at-bats Tuesday to up her season batting average to a team-high .494. Barnaby’s only at-bat that didn’t result in a hit was her first of the day, when she grounded out to end a five-inning first-inning outburst for the Cougars.

Dakota Wesleyan committed three errors in the first inning, all in the first four Azusa Pacific batters, and the Cougars took advantage. Junior RF Brandi Andrews registered the first Azusa Pacific hit, an RBI single up the middle that extended her hitting streak to 16 games, and junior C Jac Harkey later cleared the bases with a two-run triple that pushed the lead to 5-0. Two innings later, Harkey smashed an 0-1 pitch over the left-field fence for her first home run of the season, a two-run shot that extended the Cougars’ lead to 8-0 after just three innings.

“It’s really nice to have power throughout the entire lineup,” Webber said. “For Jac to see the ball well and make some solid contact was a nice confidence booster for her. It’s a lot of fun to have a team that can put the ball out of the park, but it’s also fun to score runs in other ways, as well. When we come to bat, anywhere from the first spot to the ninth in the lineup, I know that we have the potential to get on base and score runs in some fashion.”

Meanwhile, Kim didn’t allow a hit after the first two innings, finishing with seven strikeouts and two walks along with the two hits she surrendered. The five-inning two-hitter was her second shutout of the season, and she improved to 7-2 on the year with the win.

In the second game, Worley was just as impressive, scattering three hits with a walk along with a pair of strikeouts to collect her 10th win of the year. Dakota Wesleyan’s best chance to end the Cougars’ shutout streak came in the second inning, when Worley hit the leadoff batter and gave up a single on the next pitch to put runners at first and second with no outs. However, a failed sacrifice bunt eliminated the lead runner at third base, and Worley got Katie Uttecht to pop out to second for the second out before Devinne Facille lined out to third to end the threat.

After that, Azusa Pacific tallied five hits that led to five runs in the second inning, capped by Heather

Koch’s two-run double to straightaway center field. In the third inning, senior 3B Olivia Wilcox crushed a 2-0 pitch for a towering two-run homer to left that made it a 7-0 game. The Cougars were scoreless for the next two frames, but back-to-back singles and a passed ball to lead off the sixth inning helped set up Koch for the run-scoring base hit down the left-field line that ended the game.

In game two, Koch was two-for-three with three RBIs, while Barnaby was three-for-three. Wilcox and senior 1B Erika Marmolejo registered two hits each. Andrews’ 16-game hitting streak ended when she went 0-for-three after she was robbed of a hit in her final at-bat by a fine defensive play up the middle. Andrews hit a hard one-hopper back at the pitcher, who deflected the ball with her glove towards the right-field side of second base, where the second baseman Fahr calmly collected the ball off the ricochet and delivered a throw to first to beat Andrews by half a step.

With the sweep, Azusa Pacific wraps up the non-conference portion of the schedule with a 26-4 overall record, which includes wins in all 10 games away from home. The Cougars kick off GSAC play Saturday at Hope International.

“This preseason was something we expected, but it’s definitely nice to see it come to fruition,” Webber said. “Just because you have expectations doesn’t mean they will be met, and I think the team has well exceeded what those expectations were. The team seems to have a confidence they haven’t had since I’ve been here, and we’re all just excited for conference play to start.”

Dakota Wesleyan falls to 2-10, losing the first six games of its West Coast spring break trip.