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Night And Day

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Photo by Joe Reinsch
Heather Koch recorded two of Azusa Pacific's three hits in Friday's 2-0 loss to Auburn Montgomery in NAIA Softball National Championship pool play.

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May 18, 2012
Joe Reinsch
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GULF SHORES, Ala. -- After scoring a tournament-high 15 runs Thursday in its pool play opener, the NAIA’s No. 8-ranked Azusa Pacific couldn’t take advantage of its early scoring opportunities in a 2-0 defeat to No. 18 Auburn Montgomery Friday afternoon at the Gulf Shores Sportsplex.

The Cougars had two runners on with less than two outs in each of the first two innings, but Auburn Montgomery pitcher Brandi Richards got herself out of trouble both times. In the first inning, a one-out line drive down the first-base line with runners on first and second was snagged by first baseman Kacie Ryal, who stepped on first base to double up the Azusa Pacific baserunner. An inning later, after putting the first two runners aboard on a walk and hit by pitch, Richards recorded a pair of strikeouts along with a runner caught stealing to escape trouble there.

Over the next four innings, Richards settled in and retired 12 of the 13 batters she faced before Heather Koch and Olivia Wilcox put together consecutive one-out singles. However, Richards recorded another strikeout, combined with another runner caught stealing at third base to end the inning.

Taryn Devich allowed just two hits in her first five innings of work, keeping the game scoreless until the sixth inning when a leadoff single was followed by a sacrifice bunt attempt that found a small gap between Devich and Wilcox for a bunt single. Devich was replaced by Rita Kim, and a pair of wild pitches allowed both runners to score the only runs of the game.

Brandi Andrews, who went three-for-four with two doubles and a grand-slam home run in Thursday’s win, was walked in her first two plate appearances before reaching on an error to lead off the seventh. However, Richards retired Katrina Oviedo on a hard lineout to left field before finishing the game with back-to-back strikeouts.

Koch finished the game with two of Azusa Pacific’s three hits, and Wilcox also reached base twice with a hit and a walk. Auburn Montgomery, which only recorded four total hits, got two of them from leadoff hitter Jyssica Pepper, who scored on the second wild pitch in the sixth inning.

Auburn Montgomery had the best early chance to score in the game when cleanup hitter Shea Driggers doubled to left-center to lead off the bottom of the second inning. However, her pinch-runner was thrown out trying to advance on a groundout back to Devich, who froze the runner with a look before firing to first. After the first putout, first baseman Erika Marmolejo threw back across the diamond to Wilcox at third, who applied the tag to the advancing baserunner for the unconventional pitcher-to-first-to-third base double play.

Devich got out of more trouble after surrendering a leadoff single in the fourth inning. The next batter flied out to right-center, and a potential inning-ending double play ball was dropped at second base to put runners at first and second with one out. However, another fly out to left and popup to shortstop ended the frame and the game remained scoreless all the way until the bottom of the sixth.

The loss all but wraps up Azusa Pacific’s chances of advancing out of pool play into next week’s double-elimination bracket, and it drops the Cougars’ overall record to 41-11. The Cougars take on Olivet Nazarene at 2 p.m. (CDT) Saturday to wrap up pool play.

With the win, Auburn Montgomery improves to 40-18 overall and would win a tiebreaker in a two-team tie with the winner of tomorrow’s game between Azusa Pacific and Olivet Nazarene. In the case of a three-team tie including William Penn, the tiebreaker would move to run differential, a scenario which would likely favor Azusa Pacific due to yesterday’s mercy-rule win over William Penn.