AZUSA, Calif. -- An early scoring outburst led Azusa Pacific to a 9-7 opening-game win over the NAIA’s No. 1-ranked Concordia, and the Cougars settled for a doubleheader split after a seventh-inning second-game rally came up short in a 6-4 defeat.
The opening-game win snapped Concordia’s 11-game winning streak as the Eagles were shaky in the field behind their pitching ace Brittani McGue, who entered the game with a perfect 15-0 record. Azusa Pacific took advantage of three errors in the first inning to score two early runs, and the Cougars added four runs in the second and two more in the third to jump out to an 8-0 lead through three innings.
With the split, the Cougars are now 22-11 on the season, while Concordia is now 30-4 following Thursday’s matchup, which was the first meeting between the former conference rivals since 2012, when they met up in the NAIA regional playoffs. In the past two years, which Azusa Pacific has spent competing in NCAA Division II’s Pacific West Conference, Concordia had racked up an 81-6 overall record and claimed the 2013 NAIA title.
“I haven’t seen them play since the national tournament in 2012, but it still felt somewhat comfortable to see them across the field in a setting that felt like a conference game,” head coach Carrie Webber said. “Concordia always has a good presence and level of excitement which helps elevate our own game. The first game, we did a great job putting the ball in play. They made some errors, and that’s how you score runs sometimes.”
Concordia committed six errors in the opener, all in the first four innings, and McGue recorded only five outs while surrendering six runs (three earned) on four hits and three walks as she was charged with her first loss of the year. The Eagles avoided a quick mercy-rule shutout by scoring a single run on an Emily Craig solo home run in the fourth inning, and the Concordia offense woke up for three more in the sixth inning to cut the lead to 8-4.
The Cougars loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the sixth, scoring an insurance run on junior second baseman Katrina Oviedo’s RBI single to left-center that pushed the lead to 9-4. That run became more important as Concordia rallied for another three runs, all unearned, in the top of the seventh before freshman pitcher Carly Xepoleas came in for a game-ending strikeout with the bases loaded to preserve a 9-7 win.
Five different players registered two hits each for Azusa Pacific, which finished with 13 hits and drew five walks to go with Concordia’s six errors. Sophomore pitcher Narissa Garcia opened the game with three shutout frames before Craig’s fourth-inning home run, and junior reliever Destinee Levesque minimized the damage Concordia could make on eight hits and six walks in 3.2 innings.
In the second game, Craig knocked in a run in the first inning with a two-out single, and Azusa Pacific evened things up at 1-1 in the third inning on a bases-loaded wild pitch. Megan Feuerstein hit a two-run double to highlight a three-run fourth, which was followed by a pair of two-out runs in the fifth inning that extended the Eagles’ lead to 6-2. Junior shortstop Desiree Chavez beat out a two-out infield single in the bottom of the fourth that brought in the Cougars’ second run.
Chavez also got Azusa Pacific’s seventh-inning rally started with another infield hit. Freshman rightfielder Abry Moreno followed with an infield single, and an error pushed Chavez and Moreno to second and third with no outs in the seventh. Freshman third baseman Nicki Sprague’s one-out single scored Chavez to cut the lead to 6-3, and sophomore catcher Madison Hernandez laid down a squeeze bunt that scored Moreno to trim the margin to 6-4. However, Concordia pitcher Stevie Goldstein got out of trouble by inducing a groundout and a popup that ended the threat with the potential tying run on base.
Sprague and sophomore designated player Janelle Eccles collected two hits each in the nightcap, and Chavez was three-for-three.
Concordia’s offense was led by Jenna Jorgenson, who went three-for-four with three RBIs in the opener before matching it with another three-for-four effort in game two. Feuerstein was two-for-four in both games of the doubleheader.
“With the way we finished last weekend, we were starting to put the pieces back together, and this allowed us to feel better about the way we’re playing,” Webber said. “Hopefully, this will translate into some good games down the road for us. This was a great preparation for us for our conference.”
Azusa Pacific returns to PacWest play next week, hosting three doubleheaders in four days with doubleheaders against Chaminade on March 26 and 27 before the Cougars host Hawai‘i Hilo on Saturday, March 29.