GULF SHORES, Ala. -- This one was for the seniors.
Azusa Pacific knew its postseason fate was sealed a day with a pool play defeat to Auburn Montgomery before taking the field for Saturday’s pool play finale, but the Cougars gave a senior class that had won 128 games over the past four years a winning sendoff with a 5-4, 10-inning win over Olivet Nazarene.
“The team knew there was literally nothing at stake other than how they wanted to walk off the field today, said Webber, “and I think it shows the character of this team that they wanted to walk off the field as winners and to do their very best. They fought hard to the very end, and I was very proud of that. I’m glad they got to walk off the field without regrets.”
Fittingly, the win was delivered by a pair of seniors, as Olivia Wilcox and Erika Marmolejo drove in the go-ahead and game-winning runs with back-to-back one-out hits, and Taryn Devich retired three straight with the bases loaded in the bottom of the 10th as the NAIA's No. 8-ranked Cougars wrapped up the 2012 season with the one-run win over No. 9-ranked Olivet Nazarene (Ill.) Saturday in the NAIA Tournament pool play finale.
Wilcox was 4-for-4 in the game, tying the NAIA Tournament single-game doubles record with two, and junior centerfielder Angie Sprague also registered four hits while leading off the Cougars' two-run tenth with a single up the middle. She advanced to second on Rita Kim's sacrifice bunt, and Wilcox followed with a double that scored Sprague to break a 3-3 tie. Marmolejo then singled into center to score Wilcox for the eventual game-winning run.
“I wanted to end with my best and leave everything out on that field,” Wilcox said. “I feel like I did that, and that’s why I’m not upset right now. I was more upset yesterday because this wasn’t what we wanted, but today we fought as a team, so I’m just happy that we finished on a great note.”
However, Olivet Nazarene refused to end its season quietly, putting each of its first four hitters on base in the bottom of the 10th, including a deep fly ball that one-hopped the right-field fence for a run-scoring single. With the bases loaded and nobody out, Devich took over for Kim in the pitcher's circle, and she promptly struck out back-to-back hitters before leftfielder Rachel Miller secured the final out on a fly ball to left.
“Preserving the win, not for me but for the rest of the team and especially the seniors, I just wanted to get it done,” Devich said. I knew it was a crucial moment, but I had to stay calm for my team and myself. Getting the first out was crucial, because after that the nerves I did have were gone. After the second batter, I knew we had it, and on that third batter, I shook off another inside pitch because the batter was crowding the plate. I didn’t feel confident with that, so instead I threw a changeup that she popped up to Rachel, and once it was in the air I knew my outfielders would have my back.”
The Cougars never trailed in the contest, scoring three in the top of the first inning when junior rightfielder Brandi Andrews smacked a one-out double to right-center with the bases loaded. For Andrews, it was her third double of the tournament, and it also gave her a team-high eight RBIs in national tournament play. Marmolejo was 2-for-5 in her final collegiate game, and senior shortstop Natalie Barnaby also closed out her senior campaign, going 0-for-4 although she appeared to beat out a bunt for a hit with two runners aboard in the ninth inning.
“The seniors had an outstanding season,” said Webber. “They played well and led the team well, and I found it perfectly fitting that Olivia and Erika had the two big hits in the 10th inning that helped seal the deal. Natalie also laid down a beautiful bunt that I still think she beat out for a hit, even if it wasn’t called that way, and they all did a great job doing exactly what they needed to do today. They had a great season and a great career.”
On the game, Azusa Pacific pitchers stranded 14 Olivet Nazarene baserunners, including the three on base in the bottom of the 10th. Kim picked up the win, improving to 16-4 on the year with a four-inning performance that included three strikeouts and one run on seven hits. Devich earned the save, her second of the season, with her scoreless inning of work. Starting pitcher Mariah Worley surrendered two runs in the first inning but allowed just one more over the next four innings in a five-inning start.
With the win, Azusa Pacific wraps up the season with a 42-11 record.