Last year, Cougar Athletics counted down the last 30 days of summer with the Cougar Countdown blog series, which contained 30 items of interest to Cougar fans leading into the 2012-13 school year. For the summer of 2013, Cougar Athletics takes a look back with a ranking of Azusa Pacific’s top 13 teams of all-time, which was compiled by the office of Sports Information with input from current and past coaches and administrators. The top 13 teams in Cougar Athletics history will be revealed one at a time each Thursday throughout the summer, culminating with the No. 1 team on August 22.
The countdown begins with the No. 13 team:
2000 Azusa Pacific Softball
GSAC Champions (19-5)
NAIA Region II Tournament Champions
The 2000 softball team was not the first in program history to win the conference, win the region, or participate in the national tournament, but it repeated each of those accomplishments before making its own unprecedented, improbable run all the way to the national-title game.
Two separate 15-game winning streaks highlighted a 44-13 regular-season, the first of which included a 3-2, 5-1 sweep over Houston Baptist, which was ranked eighth in the NAIA at the time and finished the year ranked sixth nationally. The Cougars registered eight shutouts during the 15-game win streak, outscoring opponents by a 99-13 margin during the streak. Three consecutive doubleheader splits with conference foes preceded the next 15-game win streak, which saw Azusa Pacific post a 74-14 scoring margin along with nine more shutouts. The Cougars clinched the Golden State Athletic Conference championship, its fifth in program history, with two weeks left in the regular season.
The two streaks, separated by just five games, also launched the season for pitcher Mandy Dorow, who reeled off 19 consecutive victories after starting the year with a 2-4 record. Dorow and fellow righthander Jodi Miller combined for a program-record 34 shutouts on the year along with another record-low earned run average of 0.86. Both Dorow and Miller each threw a no-hitter, one of just two seasons in which two different Cougar pitchers have thrown no-hitters in the same year.
“The top key for us that year was our two pitchers,” said Sharon Lehman, Azusa Pacific’s 11-year softball head coach from 1995 through 2005. “A lot of pitching staffs have more than two pitchers, but we didn’t, we just had them, and they carried us. They were outstanding, they were consistent, and I’d consider them my two best pitchers ever. They weren’t necessarily strikeout pitchers as much as they just had good control and let the defense do the work, and they had the ability to bounce back because they were both so tough-minded. It was a comfort to have them go out to pitch every doubleheader.”
In fact, Miller put together two separate scoreless-inning streaks of at least 35 innings on the season, while Dorow’s season-best scoreless-inning streak reached 23.1 innings. In the postseason, they were even better, posting eight shutouts in 11 games of playoff action. Dorow’s first 25.1 innings of playoff pitching were scoreless, while Miller didn’t allow an earned run for 41.0 postseason innings until the 5-1 national-title game defeat to Oklahoma City.
While not as statistically explosive as other Cougar teams, the 2000 offense produced a .300 team batting average and five players who hit over .300 individually. Outfielder Lorna Lyttle, the conference player of the year and one of five Cougars represented on the all-conference team, led the way with a .413 average to go with 11 doubles and 11 home runs. Lyttle set program-records for home runs, slugging percentage (.682), and total bases (122).
“I look at the team picture, and what I remember when I see them is how they all brought their different skill set and had different roles on the team but they were all fiercely competitive,” Lehman recalled. “That was led by a couple of key players who just wouldn’t lie down and accept defeat. Without a doubt, this was my most talented team. Our combination of pitching, power, speed, and defense made us solid all the way around.”
Ranked No. 3 in the final NAIA Top 25 coaches poll prior to the start of postseason play, Azusa Pacific hosted the NAIA Region II tournament. The Cougars’ 1-0, 11-inning victory over Cal State Hayward clinched the Cougars’ spot in the 16-team NAIA national tournament field (the program’s third NAIA tournament appearance).
“There were indications throughout the year of what this team was capable of doing,” Lehman said. “We won the Hawai‘i Pacific tournament in February, we swept a pretty good Houston Baptist team, and of course those long winning streaks were pretty special. Our consistency in the conference was another good indication, because it was a battle between several great teams within the league. Toward the end of April, we were just building up momentum, putting up a lot of zeroes as the pitchers really came into their own. Other than what would later happen at nationals, our most exciting game was beating Cal State Hayward at regionals, because we had never won regionals during my time.”
After registering a 4-0 win in its national tournament opener in Decatur, Ala., against tournament host Athens State, Azusa Pacific surrendered two unearned runs to Eastern Oregon in a 2-0 defeat, sending the Cougars into the loser’s bracket of the double-elimination tournament.
With their backs to the wall, Azusa Pacific won four Friday games in a span of just under 13 hours just to survive into Saturday’s semifinals. The first of those was a Dorow no-hitter, a 4-0 victory over St. Ambrose in which she walked the leadoff batter before retiring 21 straight batters to close out the gem. At the time, it was the 10th no-hitter in program history, although she is the only Azusa Pacific pitcher ever to retire 21 consecutive hitters in a game.
After a break of about three hours from its 12 p.m. Friday opener, the Cougars returned to the field at 5 p.m. for the first of three back-to-back-to-back elimination contests. A 7-0 win over Walsh (Ohio) put Azusa Pacific at 50 wins for just the second time in program history, and the Cougars had to rally from a 3-0 deficit in the sixth inning against Lindenwood to force extra innings. Jennifer Powell’s ninth-inning leadoff walk set up the game-winning single from leadoff hitter Cristal Brown for the 4-3 win in a contest that lasted three hours and 20 minutes.
That pushed the Cougars’ evening matchup with Athens State back to a start time of 10:45 p.m., and it was a third-inning RBI single from Lyttle that provided the only scoring to go with Miller’s four-hit shutout in a 1-0 victory. Azusa Pacific walked off the field at 12:45 a.m. that night, with another noon start time looming for Saturday’s national championship pursuit.
“I didn’t enjoy the four games at the time, because we would finish a game and the umpires would want my lineup for the next game within five minutes,” Lehman said. “I remember being in the dugout frantically writing the next lineup with championship officials bothering me about other details, and it was just so frantic. Our day started at 10 in the morning and we got back to our hotel after 1 in the morning. After that last game, we ordered pizza, and we had to be back to play Simon Fraser the next morning. The coaches stayed up all night washing the black uniforms, because we had won all Friday in black and the team insisted we wear black on Saturday.”
Lyttle, who had gone 5-for-12 with two home runs in the Cougars’ four-game Friday marathon, went 3-for-3 in a 7-0 rout over the defending national champion and tournament top-seed Simon Fraser (B.C.) to land Azusa Pacific in its first-ever NAIA softball championship game opposite second-seeded Oklahoma City.
The Cougars, playing their sixth game in less than 28 hours, saw their amazing run come down to the final inning against an Oklahoma City squad which claimed its fifth NAIA title in a span of seven years. Azusa Pacific took the game into the seventh inning tied at 1-1 before the Stars plated four runs in the seventh for the 5-1 victory.
“We were running on fumes, and Oklahoma City was much more rested than us,” Lehman said. “Their pitcher was very good, and she threw a rise that we just couldn’t hit that day.”
Miller and Dorow were both named to the All-Tournament Team, making Azusa Pacific the first school ever to put two pitchers on the all-tourney team, and Brown and Lyttle, also earned selections to the all-tournament team. In addition, the Cougars’ impressive tournament run broke Azusa Pacific’s season wins record with just the second 50-win season in the program’s history.
“Right after the championship game, the newspaper reporter who interviewed me told me that our team was the favorite team in the press box for the media to watch, because the team played with so much emotion and joy, and we were a stark contrast to some of the other teams we played,” Lehman said.
“It was satisfying for me to hear that, so when he asked what happened in the final game, I told him that although we hadn’t executed some of the fundamentals in that particular game, overall I was just so proud of our team. From winning four games the day before, including coming back from a 3-0 deficit in the sixth inning against Lindenwood, I just heaped praise on them. The next morning, we bought some newspapers from the gas station on our way out of town, and the only part of my quote that was printed was about us not doing the fundamentals. It made it sound like I was dissatisfied, but that wasn’t the case at all. I couldn’t have been more proud of everything that team had accomplished.”
Lehman and her assistants, Lynsee Bock and Dawn Castaneda, were named the National Fastpitch Coaches Association NAIA National Coaching Staff of the Year, and all three have since been inducted into the Cougar Athletics Hall of Fame.
“The final key to our success was the coaching staff,” Lehman said. “I had great assistants and I think they prepared us well. Coaching with Lynsee and Dawn is a great memory of mine, because we worked hard together but also had a great time together.”
Lyttle was named the GSAC Player of the Year, Dorow the GSAC Pitcher of the Year, and Lehman completed the Azusa Pacific sweep of the top conference awards when she was voted GSAC Coach of the Year. Also appearing on the All-GSAC Team were Brown, who set and still holds the program’s single-season stolen base record with 40, and Jennie Waleszonia as infielders, along with Lyttle in the outfield and Dorow and Miller as pitchers.
All five also earned all-region honors, and Dorow was named NAIA All-American first team, while Miller and Lyttle were NAIA All-American second team selections.
Miller’s single-season records for ERA (0.77) and shutouts (19) still stand, while Dorow holds the career records in the same categories, registering a 0.93 career ERA in her two seasons along with 29 career shutouts.
2000 Azusa Pacific Softball Coaching Staff
Head Coach: Sharon Lehman
Assistants: Lynsee Bock, Dawn Castaneda
2000 Azusa Pacific Softball Roster
#3 Jennie Waleszonia (2B, Fr.)
#4 Cassie Lakey (INF, Fr.)
#5 Aurion Sanchez (OF, Fr.)
#7 Lorna Lyttle (OF, Jr.)
#9 Jodi Miller (P, Sr.)
#10 Shannon Long (OF, Fr.)
#12 Jennifer Robison (1B, So.)
#13 Tori Hibard (INF, Fr.)
#15 Alisa Arrigoni (INF, Jr.)
#16 Mandy Dorow (P, Jr.)
#18 Cristal Brown (SS, Jr.)
#20 Jennifer Powell (OF, Jr.)
#22 Laura Powers (3B/1B, Jr.)
#23 Jennifer Stark (3B, Sr.)
#33 Heather Jacobson (OF, Sr.)
#47 Sasha Budde (C, Fr.)
#55 Jaime Salazar (C, So.)