CLAREMONT, Calif. -- Azusa Pacific committed three errors at Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Friday afternoon, opening a season of high expectations with a disappointing 1-0 defeat.
The lone run scored by Claremont was unearned, but the Cougars certainly could have faced a much larger deficit if not for the veteran pitching of seniors Taryn Devich and Mariah Worley, who scattered eight hits for just the one unearned run. Worley twice escaped from trouble by leaving the bases loaded in the fifth and sixth innings to keep Azusa Pacific within striking distance.
“We knew that our pitching would keep us in ballgames, and that was 100 percent true today,” Cougar head coach Carrie Webber said. “With all those errors, there’s no way this ballgame should have been 1-0, but our two seniors came out and threw really well to keep us in it when our defense wasn’t as strong as it needed to be today.”
Senior leftfielder Heather Koch singled with two outs in the top of the seventh, but Claremont pitcher Hayley Schultz wrapped up her complete-game shutout by inducing a game-ending groundout. Schultz got out of her biggest jam in the top of the fourth inning when Azusa Pacific loaded the bases with back-to-back two-out singles from freshman Madison Hernandez and senior catcher Jac Harkey. Again, it was a groundout that helped Schultz out of trouble, and she retired eight of the next nine hitters she faced before Koch broke through with an infield single.
“We’re not the power-hitting team we’ve been the last couple of years, so we have to have a mindset that we can’t win ballgames off one big home run,” Webber said. “The players have to realize that they need to have quality at-bats and work for those line drives and base hits and shots into the gap. They have to find their identity that way and not wait for one person to come up with a home run and save the day, because that’s not going to happen.”
Claremont scored the game’s only run in the bottom of the second inning when Harmony Palmer drew a leadoff walk and advanced safely to second by way of a throwing error that should have erased the lead runner on a fielder’s choice grounder. Instead, with runners on first and second with no outs, Palmer stole third base before scoring on Kendall Kritzik’s RBI groundout to second base.
Devich, who surrendered three hits, one walk, and the decisive unearned run in her three innings of work, was charged with the loss. Worley struck out four and held the Athenas scoreless despite allowing five hits and a walk. Together they stranded 11 Claremont baserunners, while the Cougars left seven on base.
“We knew that four of our position players were playing at positions they’ve never played before for us, so we thought there would be some breaking in that would need to happen,” Webber said. “We obviously hoped we would spread those errors out over two or three games, but this game is a very transparent way for us to see what we need to work on.”
Preseason All-PacWest outfielder Brandi Andrews started at first base, and she was one of six different Azusa Pacific players who hit safely in the season opener.
The defeat was Azusa Pacific’s first loss to open a season since 2007, and it’s the third straight year that Claremont-Mudd-Scripps has been responsible for the first setback of the year for the Cougars, who return to action Saturday with an 11 a.m. doubleheader at Cal State San Bernardino.