AZUSA, Calif. -- After suffering a disappointing sweep to Concordia Saturday, it wasn’t surprising that it took a while to get back into a groove just three days later against Biola. What wasn’t expected, though, was how a player battling the flu served as the catalyst that helped the NAIA’s No. 10-ranked Azusa Pacific snap out of the doldrums.
With the Cougars down to their final out in the first game, senior first baseman Erika Marmolejo smacked a two-run home run that lifted her team to a thrilling 4-3 victory in the opener, a jolt that jump-started the Cougar offense into a five-inning 13-0 win in the second game that completed the doubleheader sweep.
“I didn’t know if we were going to snap out of our haze in the first game,” Cougar head coach Carrie Webber said. “I didn’t want a loss to be the thing we needed to get going again, and that’s why you keep fighting through all seven innings. Once it happened, it obviously carried over into the second game.”
Marmolejo, who was struggling through flu symptoms, was hitless in her first three at-bats, including an infield pop fly to lead off the bottom of the sixth after Biola had just taken a 2-1 lead. Two Cougar hits later in the frame failed to yield a run, and the Eagles added an insurance run in the seventh to go ahead by a 3-1 margin. Through six innings, Azusa Pacific had managed to score only once on eight hits, and the Cougar defense had stumbled its way to three errors.
“It was a little tough, because (Saturday’s losses) were still setting the tone a little bit for us through our warmups today,” Marmolejo said. “We just kept trying to push through it, and it finally clicked.”
Senior shortstop Natalie Barnaby led off the seventh with a base hit, although she was erased at second when Angie Sprague grounded into a fielder’s choice. Sprague moved to second on another groundout, putting Biola one out away from the upset win, but senior third baseman Olivia Wilcox kept Azusa Pacific alive with a run-scoring single back up the middle that cut Biola’s lead to 3-2.
That’s when Marmolejo stepped to the plate, where she watched the first strike before unloading on CeCe Luster’s high changeup on the second offering, driving it into the trees beyond the left-field fence for the game-winning two-run shot.
“After that first strike, I figured she would throw me a changeup,” Marmolejo said. “I just didn’t think it was going to be so high, so I just sat back on it and drove it.”
In the second game, the Cougars were only scoreless for two innings, scoring 13 runs in a two-inning span, all without the benefit of the longball. Another run-scoring Wilcox single plated the first two Azusa Pacific runs, and four more runs resulted from four straight two-out hits in the third inning. Junior rightfielder Brandi Andrews tripled to right, scoring Wilcox to make it 3-0, and back-to-back doubles from junior catcher Jac Harkey and Rachel Miller capped the six-run outburst.
An inning later, Azusa Pacific sent 11 batters to the plate during a seven-run frame, pushing the lead to 13-0. Wilcox, Marmolejo, and Andrews combined for three consecutive doubles during the rally, each driving in at least a run to help add to the Cougar lead. Sprague, who led off the fourth with a walk, drove in two more when she dropped a two-out single into right-center to push the lead to 13-0.
When the dust finally settled, Azusa Pacific had manufactured 13 runs on 11 hits in just two innings, all while junior righthander Taryn Devich mowed through the Eagles lineup for a three-hit shutout. Devich finished with five strikeouts as she recorded her seventh complete-game shutout of the year.
Wilcox and Andrews collected two hits each in both games of the doubleheader, and Barnaby was three-for-six on the day while extending her hitting streak to 11 games. Marmolejo also ripped an RBI double in the second game to go with the two-run homer she hit to win the opener.
Luster pitched the complete-game for Biola in the opener and was in line for the win before the Cougars’ late heroics. Natalie Coleman had two of the Eagle’s seven hits on the day, and she drove in two of Biola’s three runs. The Eagles fell to 15-19 overall and 1-7 in GSAC play.
Azusa Pacific, which is now 30-6 overall and 4-2 in GSAC play, is scheduled to finally make up its road doubleheader at Hope International, which has been postponed twice due to rain and will now be played on Friday, March 30, at Craig Park in Fullerton. The Cougars will be back home next Tuesday, April 3, to host Hope International as regularly scheduled.