AZUSA, Calif. -- For the second consecutive day, Azusa Pacific embraced the role of spoiler to the Pacific West Conference title hopes of Grand Canyon, which had to come from behind to win both games of Saturday’s 9-4, 12-1 doubleheader sweep over the Cougars.
Grand Canyon scored at least four runs in an inning twice in each game of the twinbill, rallying from three runs down in the opener before erasing a 1-0 lead with an eight-run third inning in the second game. For 11 Cougar seniors, it wrapped up the final season of their collegiate careers.
“This entire last series has been emotional for all of us, both yesterday and today,” Azusa Pacific head coach Carrie Webber said. “Losing 11 seniors is a very big deal, both for the program and for myself, because they’ve been with us for so long. We’ve been through a lot together, and I care about them like daughters, so trying to say goodbye is really difficult.”
All 11 seniors started or pitched in at least one game of the doubleheader, and Angie Sprague, Brandi Andrews, and Rita Kim each collected three hits on the day. Defensively, they held Grand Canyon, a team that had entered the weekend series out-scoring opponents in the first inning by a 53-6 margin, scoreless in the opening inning of all four games in the series.
“We challenged the team this weekend, because how they came out this weekend would be a testament to their character,” Webber said. “Whether they ended up believing it or not, this weekend catapults them into what they’re about to do. If that’s tomorrow, or next month, or next semester, or their career, it’s the development of their character to the very end that will make them successful in life beyond softball.”
In the opener, Azusa Pacific scored three two-out runs in the second inning to take the early lead. Kim led off with a single, but a failed sacrifice and popped foul ball still left the Cougars with just one runner on first base with two outs. Erica Taft followed with a two-out walk, and Rachel Miller drove in the first run of the game with a two-out run-scoring single. Sprague kept the rally going with a two-run ground-rule double down the right-field line that pushed the lead to 3-0.
Senior pitcher Taryn Devich was perfect for three innings to start the game, retiring the first nine batters she faced before Kayla Henry led off the fourth with a single to left-center. An inning later, Grand Canyon scored four runs on three hits and left the bases loaded to take a 4-3 lead in the fifth inning. After scoring one more on a sixth-inning sacrifice fly, the ‘Lopes put together a second four-run frame to take a 9-3 lead heading into the Cougars’ final at-bat of the opener. Taft drew a leadoff walk in the seventh, and she scored on Sprague’s one-out triple to right-center before GCU got out of the inning with a double-play that preserved the 9-4 win for the Antelopes.
In the second game, the Cougars drew first blood in the opening inning with Andrews’ two-out RBI single up the middle. However, Grand Canyon sent 13 batters to the plate during an eight-run third-inning rally. The ‘Lopes put the game out of reach with four more runs in the top of the fifth, taking a 12-1 lead. Azusa Pacific wouldn’t die easily, however, loading the bases with two outs on three consecutive singles from seniors Andrews, Kim, and Heather Koch before GCU pitcher Stephanie Pesqueira was able to get the final Cougar hitter to fly out in foul territory down the left-field line.
“This weekend was such a rollercoaster,” Webber said. “It’s so bittersweet to see the season end and have to say goodbye to 11 amazing girls, but now they get to start the next journey in their life. We also get to bring in a whole new class behind them to start that journey all over again, but these 11 girls are still very special to me.”
With the sweep, Grand Canyon stays within a game of new PacWest leader Dixie State, and those teams will square off next weekend in St. George, Utah, to wrap up conference play.
Azusa Pacific has concluded its opening season of NCAA Division II and Pacific West Conference competition, finishing with an overall record of 23-24 and 12-18 in PacWest play.