LAS VEGAS, Nev. -- Senior pitcher Rita Kim took a one-hitter into the sixth inning in Saturday’s 10-2 win over Metro State (Colo.), and she collected two hits in each game for Azusa Pacific as it split its final two games at the Desert Stinger Tournament at Majestic Park in Las Vegas. The Cougars’ run at winning all five of its tournament games ended with an 11-6 defeat to Minnesota-Duluth.
“The weekend as a whole was a really good step for us,” Cougar head coach Carrie Webber said after her team went 4-1 on the weekend to improve to 5-3 on the year. “I was proud of the girls for the way they played, because even though we didn’t play amazing softball, but we did the little things in order to generate runs and win ballgames. We have a lot of improving to do, so this was a good opportunity to work on things and realize that we are going to get better. We’re stepping in the right direction, and hopefully we can learn from those mistakes.”
Kim struck out 12 batters in the six-inning mercy-rule win over Metro State, going two-for-three at the plate with two RBIs to help her own cause. After issuing a leadoff walk to start the game, Kim struck out the side in the first inning as she retired 15 of the next 17 batters she faced. Metro State scored both of its runs with two outs in the top of the sixth, cutting Azusa Pacific’s lead to 6-2.
In the bottom of the sixth, freshman Madison Hernandez opened up a four-run frame with an RBI triple, and she scored on senior catcher Jac Harkey’s RBI groundout to make it an 8-2 game. Freshman Jessica Melcher and senior Angie Sprague tallied consecutive one-out hits, and both scored on a two-out error that ended the game as the Cougars took an eight-run lead.
“The bats are starting to pick up, and this was a good example of how our season is going to go,” Webber said. “We’re going to generate runs by playing small ball and taking advantage of the weaknesses of the teams we’re playing.”
The Cougars scored in the first inning for the fifth time in the past six games, with senior Heather Koch’s two-out single to right-center bringing sophomore second baseman Katrina Oviedo around to score from second base for an early 1-0 lead. Koch later scored on a wild pitch to make it a 2-0 lead after one inning. The Cougars added four more in the third, with Kim and Hernandez each driving in a pair with base hits in the inning to push the lead to 6-0.
In the second game, Azusa Pacific immediately answered Minnesota-Duluth’s four-run third inning with a four-spot in the top of the fourth inning. The Cougars scored all four runs when three consecutive hitters reached base on error with one out in the inning. The last of those three errors came with the bases loaded, and all three baserunners came around to score and tie the game at 4-4.
Minnesota-Duluth scored another four, all with one out in the bottom of the fourth inning. Kierra Jeffers provided a three-run home run to push the lead to 8-4, and Jordan Rice provided a three-run blast in the fifth inning to extend the Bulldogs’ lead to 11-4.
“I really think all four of our pitchers at some point during the last two days had a really good outing,” Webber said. “We struggled a little in that last game, but that was a really good hitting team. Everyone had their moments, so now we just have to be more consistent.”
With one out and one on base for Azusa Pacific in the top of the sixth, Hernandez doubled to right-center, driving in one while coming around to score herself after an error by the right fielder. That trimmed the deficit to 11-6, and the Cougars weren’t able to score in the seventh after loading the bases with no outs. A lineout double play erased the lead runner, and Julia Nealer finished off the complete-game win for Minnesota-Duluth by inducing a groundout.
After playing five games in a span of less than 30 hours Friday and Saturday, Azusa Pacific is off for 10 days before taking on Biola on Feb. 19 in the Cougars’ 2013 home opener.