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A Smashing Start

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Photo by Joe Reinsch
Freshman Nicki Sprague was six-for-six at the plate, leading Azusa Pacific to a 3-1, 8-0 doubleheader sweep over Pomona-Pitzer.

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February 1, 2014
Joe Reinsch
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CLAREMONT, Calif. -- Azusa Pacific couldn’t have asked for a better start to its 2014 season in a 3-1, 8-0 doubleheader sweep over Pomona-Pitzer Saturday afternoon.

Led by freshman Nicki Sprague’s six-for-six afternoon, the Cougars tallied 22 hits on the day, and the young pitching staff was every bit as impressive as the offense. Sophomore Narissa Garcia got the opening-game start, and she delivered a one-hitter, while freshman Carly Xepoleas tossed a two-hit shutout in her first collegiate start.

“I was really excited to get on the field today and see what we had,” Azusa Pacific head coach Carrie Webber said. “I woke up this morning really excited, because I couldn’t wait to see how they would all play as a team and handle the nerves of the first game. It took us that first game to get the nerves out and get our timing down at the plate, but we made the adjustments and finished well.”

In the first game, Azusa Pacific scored all three of its runs with two outs, scoring twice in the fourth inning before adding a seventh-inning insurance run. With two outs in the top of the fourth, junior centerfielder Renae Chappelle stole second, one of five steals for Cougar baserunners, and freshman rightfielder Abry Moreno reached on an error and stole second before a wild pitch scored them both to break a scoreless tie.

The Sagehens got a leadoff double from Caitlin Hynes in the bottom of the fourth, the second of just four Pomona-Pitzer hitters to reach base against Garcia. Hynes moved to third on a sacrifice bunt and scored on a sacrifice fly to cut the Cougar lead to 2-1. In the seventh inning, junior shortstop Desiree Chavez reached on a two-out infield hit, and after stealing second she scored on junior second baseman Katrina Oviedo’s single to right to extend the lead to 3-1.

“Our freshmen did a really great job today, and our returning juniors had a different kind of confidence about them,” Webber said. “They’re the leaders of this team now, and they played with a little more confidence and swagger, which was fun to see.”

Meanwhile, Garcia put together one of her best collegiate performances, striking out five and closing out the impressive one-hitter by retiring 10 of the final 11 batters she faced after the Hynes double.

The Cougars opened the second game with another two-out run in the top of the first. Sophomore catcher Madison Hernandez hit a two-out single to center, which Sprague followed with a double to score Hernandez for an early 1-0 lead. Two innings later, Sprague got another two-out hit with runners on, although Oviedo was thrown out trying to score to end the inning.

In the fourth inning, the Cougars cashed in another pair of two-out runs, when Moreno’s two-out line drive was dropped by the right fielder, allowing Chappelle and sophomore Janelle Eccles to score on the error and extend the lead to 3-0. Oviedo, Hernandez, and Sprague started the fifth with three straight hits, and Sprague came all the way around to score when her single to right field was misplayed into a three-base error that brought all three around to score to make it 6-0.

Chavez’s leadoff double in the sixth inning set the table for two more runs in the top of the sixth, and Xepoleas set the Sagehens down in order in the bottom of the frame to complete the 8-0 mercy-rule win.

Xepoleas got out of early trouble in each of the first two innings, escaping a no-outs, bases-loaded jam in the first with a strikeout and a double play before issuing a pair of one-out walks in the second inning which she followed with back-to-back strikeouts. From that point on, she only allowed one more baserunner, retiring 12 straight batters to finish off the two-hit shutout.

Sprague led the offense, collecting five of her six hits on the day with two outs and going five-for-five with runners on base, and Hernandez added five hits with a team-high three runs in the doubleheader. Oviedo registered four hits in eight at-bats, and Chavez, Eccles, and sophomore first baseman Jessica Melcher each finished the day with two hits.

Azusa Pacific has opened the year with a doubleheader sweep five times in the past seven years, taking a 2-0 record into next weekend’s Desert Stinger tournament in Las Vegas, Nev.