IRVINE, Calif. -- Azusa Pacific kicked off the postseason as impressively as it wrapped up one of the program’s best regular seasons in program history, posting a 9-0 mercy-rule victory over Hope International in the Cougars’ playoff-opener Thursday in the six-team unaffiliated conference tournament hosted by Concordia University.
Junior rightfielder Brandi Andrews’ two-run home run highlighted a four-run first, and the Cougars scored their final five via the longball to pick up their seventh mercy-rule win in the past 12 games. Junior catcher Jac Harkey’s three-run fifth-inning shot extended the lead to 7-0, and senior third baseman Olivia Wilcox ended the contest with a two-run, two-out shot to left-center in the bottom of the sixth.
Junior pitcher Taryn Devich tossed four shutout innings, striking out four without issuing a walk to pick up the win, and junior pitcher Rita Kim fired two more scoreless frames in relief. Hope International had runners on base in each of the first five innings, but Devich and Kim stranded all seven Royal baserunners to register the combined shutout, which was the 19th this season for Azusa Pacific’s pitching staff.
The victory sends Azusa Pacific into a winner’s-bracket clash against tournament host and NAIA No. 1-ranked Concordia. Just over two weeks ago, the No. 8-ranked Cougars snapped the Eagles’ 44-game winning streak with a 2-0 win in Irvine that ended Concordia’s regular season with just its third loss of the season. The teams meet up again in a playoff rematch at 2 p.m. Friday, with the winner advancing into Saturday’s championship bracket.
Harkey, junior centerfielder Angie Sprague and senior first baseman Erika Marmolejo combined for six of Azusa Pacific’s nine hits. Sprague slapped the first pitch she saw back up the middle to lead off the first for the first of her two hits, and senior first baseman Erika Marmolejo’s two-hit afternoon started with a first-inning RBI double as the Cougars batted through their full lineup in the first inning.
With the win, the Cougars are now 5-0 against Hope International this year and improve to 39-8 overall. Hope International wraps up the season with a 27-31 overall record.