AZUSA, Calif. -- Sophomore first baseman Jessica Melcher drove in four runs on two hits, including a two-run homer, as Azusa Pacific claimed the first game of its Pacific West Conference opening doubleheader 11-5 over Hawai`i Pacific. However the Cougars ran into tough pitching in game two, which the Sea Warriors won 4-3, despite the Cougars putting the potential tying run in scoring position in the final frame.
The Cougars took advantage of a rusty start from the Sea Warriors, who were playing their first games of the season after four straight rainouts. Azusa Pacific made the most of three defensive errors from their opponents in the first two innings to put nine runs on the board. Melcher drove in two runs with a two-out, bases-loaded single in the first inning to start the Cougars’ scoring before hitting the long ball to left that gave Azusa Pacific a quick 9-1 edge.
"[Melcher] is making the adjustments in practice and really working hard," head coach Carrie Webber said. "We made some changes to her swing, and she is really dedicated to working on her swing and it shows. Her pitch selection has been better this year. She has a year under her belt now, and is having better at bats.”
Hawai`i Pacific began to mount a comeback in the top of the fourth by loading the bases with three singles, which all led to runs before freshman Carly Xepoleas came in to navigate the Cougars out of the jam. Xepoleas stayed in for the rest of the game, holding the Sea Warriors to just one run through 3.1 innings to earn her fourth win in four decisions.
"Carly has turned out to be a really solid pitcher," Webber said of the freshman, who has a 1.03 earned run average this year. "She does very well in relief situations, and she complements our staff really well in that role. She had a couple rough at-bats, but overall we are really pleased with how she has come along as a freshman. She doesn't look like a freshman out there."
In game two, junior leftfielder Sona Babayan hit a pair of triples that put the Cougars a hit away from sending the game into extra innings. Her first triple, which came in the bottom of the fourth, gave the Cougars their first run of the game. It was the first time the Cougars were able to do some damage against HPU pitcher Chandell Dacosin, who allowed just two earned runs in the complete game win.
Babayan's second three-bagger started Azusa Pacific's seventh-inning rally. Melcher drove in Babayan on a sharply hit groundball to shortstop that cut the Hawai`i Pacific lead to 4-2. Renae Chappelle then drove in Rebecca Dawson, who pinch ran for Melcher, and Abry Moreno singled to put runners on first and second in a one-run game. The Cougars weren't able to capitalize though, dropping just their third loss of the season.
"This second game, we learned a lot about ourselves and what it means to compete in this conference," Webber said. "We can't take anyone lightly. I think that tomorrow the girls will come out and take every pitch and every inning the way they did the first game."
Melcher, who finished the night with five runs batted in, now has a team-best four home runs and 14 RBIs, while batting .325 to start the season. Destinee Levesque was saddled with the loss despite giving up just one earned run through four innings and striking out four. She is now 3-3 on the season. Chappelle finished the night 3-for-6 with one RBI.
Azusa Pacific is now 10-3 overall this season and is 1-1 in conference-play. The two teams will meet in another doubleheader tomorrow at 4 p.m. at the Cougar Softball Complex. Then the Cougars will go on the road to Dixie State this weekend to play a doubleheader on February 22.