ST. GEORGE, Utah -- Dixie State’s pursuit of the Pacific West Conference softball championship wasn’t slowed by Azusa Pacific in a four-game series in St. George, with the Red Storm sweeping the set with mercy-rule wins in the second game of Friday and Saturday doubleheaders this weekend.
Dixie State, which entered the weekend trailing conference-leader Grand Canyon by just one game, batted .352 against the Cougars in four games, scoring at least two runs in an inning five different times in the series. The only game it didn’t record at least one inning with multiple runs was Saturday’s first game, a 2-1 pitcher’s duel between Azusa Pacific senior Rita Kim and the Red Storm’s Michelle Duncan.
After the sweep, Azusa Pacific drops to 21-22 overall and 10-16 in Pacific West Conference play, while Dixie State moved closer to the conference lead held by idle Grand Canyon. With the four-game series sweep over the Cougars, Dixie State will be no worse than one game behind Grand Canyon when the PacWest leaders square off head-to-head with a potential PacWest title on the line in early May.
Dixie State swept Friday’s doubleheader by scores of 5-2 and 9-0, then opened Saturday’s twinbill with the 2-1 win followed by another five-inning mercy-rule victory, 11-3.
Freshman catcher/third baseman Madison Hernandez led the Cougars offensively in the series, batting 5-for-10 with a pair of RBIs, while senior shortstop Rachel Miller hit two solo home runs in the series for Azusa Pacific.
In Friday’s opener, Hernandez hit a two-out, two-run single in the top of the fifth inning that cut a 4-0 Dixie State lead in half, but Duncan retired the final seven Cougar hitters to pick up the 5-2 win. Kim surrendered just one hit after allowing the Red Storm a four-run second inning, finishing with three strikeouts in five innings of work. In the second game, Dixie State scored three in the first inning, two in the second, and four more in the third to build its 9-0 lead, and Kate Coffey held Azusa Pacific to just three hits while retiring the final 11 batters to claim the five-inning mercy-rule win.
On Saturday, Kim and Duncan were at their best in the pitcher’s circle, with Kim allowing two runs on four hits with four strikeouts while Duncan picked up the win, allowing one run on three hits with two strikeouts. With two outs in the bottom of the first inning, Dixie State’s Johnna Brown doubled to left-center and scored on an Anna Cue single for an early one-run lead. Kim retired 13 of the next 16 batters to keep the Cougars within striking distance, and Miller homered down the left-field line with one out in the sixth inning to tie the game at 1-1.
Dixie State answered just two batters into the bottom of the sixth, when Brown hit a 3-0 pitch from Kim over the left-field fence for the go-ahead run. Duncan then retired the Cougars in order in the top of the seventh to pick up the complete-game victory. In game two, Miller hit another solo home run, this time to lead off the game and give Azusa Pacific the early lead. The Cougars added two more in the first on Heather Koch’s two-out double, and although Dixie State responded with one run in the bottom of the first, senior pitcher Mariah Worley held the 3-1 lead going into the fifth inning.
The Red Storm offense clicked in the bottom of the fifth, scoring 10 runs off three different Cougar pitchers while sending 13 batters to the plate in the frame to pick up the mercy-rule win. Courtney Sherwin’s two-out RBI double scored Siera Phillips for the final run, which pushed the lead to the final 11-3 margin.
Azusa Pacific concludes its season April 26-27, hosting Grand Canyon in doubleheaders Friday (4 p.m.) and Saturday (12 p.m.).