AZUSA, Calif. -- After nearly two weeks off from competition, Azusa Pacific opened Pacific West Conference play Friday night, suffering a sweep against Academy of Art, dropping the first game, 3-2, in extra innings before the Cougars were edged again in the second game, 4-3.
“Having two weeks off did us absolutely no justice,” Azusa Pacific head coach Carrie Webber said. “I don’t think today was a very good representation of who we are to start conference play, but unfortunately that’s just the way it is. This is the foot we put forward, and we can’t look back. We just have to wake up tomorrow and try again.”
Senior outfielder Heather Koch tallied two of Azusa Pacific’s nine hits on the night, and she accounted for three of the Cougars’ five runs with two runs scored and one RBI. Senior centerfielder Angie Sprague and senior shortstop Rachel Miller both contributed two hits each for Cougars on the night, with Miller and Koch representing the only Azusa Pacific batters to hit safely in both games of the doubleheader.
In the opener, the Urban Knights took a quick lead with a single run in the first inning, but Azusa Pacific answered an inning later with two runs. Koch led off with a single to center and advanced to third when Madison Hernandez’ sacrifice bunt resulted in the first of three Academy of Art errors in the inning. Koch scored on an overthrow when Hernandez stole second base, and Hernandez eventually scored on a double steal following another Urban Knight error on a sacrifice bunt attempt. Those runs brought the score to 2-1 at the end of the second inning.
Academy of Art tied the game at 2-2 in the top of the fourth, loading the bases with two outs and scoring on a passed ball. The game remained tied through seven to force extra innings. In the top of the ninth, the Urban Knights scored again with two outs for the game-winning run, executing on the basepaths with runners on first and third. With a fake steal drawing a throw to second base, Julie Martin stole home to give Art U a 3-2 lead.
Despite being charged with the loss, Cougar starting pitcher Rita Kim had a strong performance in the circle, totaling ten strikeouts while surrendering just one earned run.
Taryn Devich recorded the final two outs of the first game and started the second game for Azusa Pacific. She gave up four runs on six hits before freshman Narissa Garcia came on in relief in the fifth inning to throw three shutout innings with four strikeouts and one walk.
The Urban Knights held the 4-0 lead until a Cougar rally in the bottom of the sixth. Sprague led off with an infield hit and stole second, and senior Brandi Andrews advanced Sprague to third with a one-out single to left field. After Andrews swiped second to put runners at second and third, Koch doubled to left to score Sprague and cut the lead to 4-1. With runners again at second and third, an Urban Knights error brought Andrews home to score, and Koch later scored on Miller’s two-out single to right field, trimming the deficit to 4-3.
Despite finding offensive success with its sixth-inning rally, the Cougars were retired in order in the seventh inning by Academy of Art reliever Kristin Valdivia, who closed out the game for her first save of the season.
“We played solid defense, but when your hitting is off, you’re not going to win ballgames,” Webber said.
The sweep dropped Azusa Pacific to 0-2 to start PacWest play, and the Cougars fell to 5-5 overall. Academy of Art improved to 6-10 overall and 4-2 in the PacWest.
“The more we get through this season, we will be able to understand how to better prepare ourselves for these back-to-back days,” Webber said. “I don’t think it’s anything to be worried about other than some minor adjustments we have to make as we go along. Tomorrow just can’t come quick enough.”
Azusa Pacific continues its PacWest-opening weekend, hosting another conference doubleheader against Notre Dame de Namur on Saturday, Feb. 23, at 12 p.m.