AZUSA, Calif. -- A 10-day break between games resulted in a slow start for the NAIA’s No. 8-ranked Azusa Pacific, which dropped the opening game of its Golden State Athletic Conference doubleheader with Vanguard, 5-3, but rallied for a split with a 3-1 second-game win Saturday afternoon in Azusa.
Third baseman Olivia Wilcox and first baseman Erika Marmolejo, two of the four Cougar seniors playing in their final regular-season home games, knocked back-to-back singles into center field in the bottom of the sixth inning of the second game to break a 1-1 tie and lift the Cougars to the 3-1 win. Marmolejo registered hits in both games and went two-for-three in the second game, extending her career-high hitting streak to 11 games, and Wilcox also hit safely in both games of the twinbill.
Also honored in the postgame senior ceremony were shortstop Natalie Barnaby, who hit an RBI single in the opener, and Leslie-Anne Picone, who is injured and not available to play. The quartet comprises a senior class which all carries career batting averages over .300 and has the opportunity to become just the second group of Cougar seniors in program history to make consecutive national tournament appearances.
“The four seniors are really the foundation of what Azusa Pacific softball is now,” Cougar head coach Carrie Webber said. “These seniors are the ones that have really laid that foundation for us, so to think that we’ll see them leave is really hard. It’s not as emotional tonight because we know we still have more games, but when those last games happen it will definitely be sad to see them go.”
Since sweeping Hope International on April 3, Azusa Pacific didn’t have another game scheduled in the week and a half before Saturday’s matchup with Vanguard, which had been able to squeeze in three non-conference contests since its most recent GSAC date on April 3. The layoff seemed to put the Cougars out of sync both offensively and defensively.
Despite loading the bases with no outs in the first inning of the opener, Azusa Pacific stranded all three with a groundout and a pair of infield popups, and the Cougar defense committed a pair of errors in the first four innings of action. After Vanguard took a 2-0 lead on a Breanne Gomez home run in the third inning, the Lions scored another three runs in the fourth following one of the Cougar errors.
“That week and a half off was really hard on us,” Webber said. “Hopefully today’s win can help us get back into a groove heading into next week. We’re going to need to play flawless games defensively against Concordia, and our pitchers have their work cut out for them to navigate that lineup.”
Trailing 5-0, the Cougar offense finally got itself going in the sixth inning. Freshman second baseman Katrina Oviedo hit a one-out double that drove in Azusa Pacific’s first run, and Barnaby singled to left with two outs in the inning to score Oviedo and cut the Vanguard lead to 5-2. In the seventh, Marmolejo hit a one-out single which was followed by Brandi Andrews’ double to right-center, and Oviedo knocked in another run with a groundout to shortstop.
However, Vanguard escaped with the win when Jac Harkey’s fly ball to shallow center was tracked down by shortstop Kimberly Skoglund. The Cougars left 10 runners on base in the opener, scoring just three runs on 10 hits. Rita Kim, who threw a no-hitter in her last outing, fired two hitless innings to start the game and got two more outs in the third before Gomez’s two-run home run snapped Kim’s no-hit streak at 9.2 consecutive innings.
In the second game, Vanguard took the early lead again with a leadoff triple followed by a run-scoring single in the top of the first inning. However, Cougar starting pitcher Mariah Worley escaped the frame with no further damage, and she only allowed three more hits over the final six innings as she improved to 13-0 on the year.
Azusa Pacific wasn’t able to convert leadoff doubles in the second and third innings into runs, but Kim and Adrianna Martinez led off the fifth with consecutive infield singles. Kim eventually scored on an error following an Angie Sprague sacrifice bunt, tying the game at 1-1 in the fifth. An inning later, Heather Koch led off with a single into right-center, and she scored the go-ahead run on an error after advancing to third on Wilcox’s single up the middle. Wilcox went to third on the play, and Marmolejo drove her in with a line-drive RBI single just over the glove of the shortstop that pushed the lead to 3-1.
Worley retired eight of the final nine batters she faced, including a strikeout, groundout, and lineout to end the game after giving up a leadoff double in the seventh.
After the split, Azusa Pacific is now 35-7 overall and 9-3 in GSAC play, while Vanguard now sits at 28-21 overall, 6-8 GSAC. The Cougars wrap up the regular season with road doubleheaders next week at the NAIA’s top-ranked Concordia (April 17) and Biola (April 21).