LAS VEGAS, Nev. -- Azusa Pacific won all three of its games Friday at the Desert Stinger Tournament in Las Vegas, but none of the three games followed the same script.
The Cougars battled from behind to take the lead late in a 7-5 victory over New Mexico Highlands to open the day, and a 2-1 win over St. Cloud State was a pitcher’s duel. In the final game of the day, Azusa Pacific put up four runs in the first inning and never trailed again to wrap up the day with an 8-4 win over Northwest Nazarene.
Senior outfielder Brandi Andrews was five-for-10 on the day with two triples and her first home run of the season, while seniors Rachel Miller and Angie Sprague collected four hits and three runs each on the day. Three different pitchers recorded winning decisions, and two saves were credited to Cougar pitchers who protected late leads.
The Cougars return to action Saturday at Majestic Park in Las Vegas, wrapping up their participation in the Desert Stinger Tournament, which is the country’s largest NCAA Division II softball tournament hosted by one school. Azusa Pacific faces Metro State (11:30 a.m.) and Minnesota-Duluth (2:00 p.m.) on Saturday.
GAME 1: AZUSA PACIFIC 8, NEW MEXICO HIGHLANDS 4
In the opener against New Mexico Highlands, the Cougars allowed two first-inning runs and trailed until the fourth inning when senior catcher Jac Harkey’s sacrifice fly brought senior rightfielder Rita Kim in to score from third base to tie the game at 2-2. Freshman first baseman Jessica Melcher’s run-scoring single in the sixth pushed Azusa Pacific in front, 3-2, and Andrews led off a four-run seventh with a solo home run, her first of the season.
New Mexico Highlands pulled within 7-5 with two outs in the bottom of the seventh on Tess Oliphant’s three-run home run, but freshman pitcher Narissa Garcia closed out the victory one batter later on a game-ending groundout. Garcia threw six innings of relief, scattering three hits without allowing a run in her first five innings of work before Oliphant’s two-out home run to center field.
Andrews led the Cougars’ 10-hit attack with a three-for-four, two-RBI performance, and Harkey drove in two on sacrifice flies. Senior designated player Heather Koch added two hits, as seven of Azusa Pacific’s nine starters hit safely in the game.
GAME 2: AZUSA PACIFIC 2, ST. CLOUD STATE 1
Senior pitcher Taryn Devich fired five shutout innings to start the game, nearly matching the performance of St. Cloud State’s Kelly Franks, who retired 15 of the first 16 Cougars she faced. In the top of the sixth inning, Harkey drew a leadoff walk from Franks, setting Azusa Pacific’s “small-ball” game into motion.
Melcher sacrificed pinch-runner Brittni Moreno to second base, and Sprague’s infield hit put Moreno at third base with just one out. After Sprague stole second, sophomore second baseman Katrina Oviedo reached on a fielder’s choice that brought Moreno home with the game’s first run and pushed Sprague over to third. When Oviedo stole second, Sprague swiped home plate to give the Cougars a 2-0 sixth-inning lead.
After St. Cloud State cut the lead in half on Mikayla Hogan’s one-out solo home run in the bottom of the sixth, Garcia replaced Devich in the pitcher’s circle, and she struck out three of the final six batters she faced to preserve the victory. Sprague and Oviedo registered the only hits off Franks, who struck out eight.
GAME 3: AZUSA PACIFIC 8, NORTHWEST NAZARENE 4
In the final game of the day, Azusa Pacific wasted no time answering Northwest Nazarene’s run in the top of the first. Andrews hit a one-out triple to score Oviedo, sparking a four-run first inning for the Cougars, who added another run in the second to take an early 5-1 lead.
Worley surrendered just one more run before giving way to Kim after four innings of work, finishing her day with a four-inning, two-strikeout performance. Northwest Nazarene pulled to within a run at 5-4 on Baylee Jolliffe’s two-out, two-run double that produced a pair of unearned runs off Kim, but Azusa Pacific extended the margin back to 8-4 by answering with three runs in the bottom of the sixth. Miller doubled to lead off the sixth, later scoring from second when Harkey reached on an error. Sprague also had an RBI single in the frame.
Miller led the Cougar offense, going three-for-three with two runs scored, and Sprague and Andrews each added two hits to contribute to a nine-hit team effort. Kim struck out seven in her three innings of work to pick up the save and preserve the victory for Worley, who notched her first win of the year.