BRISBANE, Calif. -- Junior leftfielder Sona Babayan provided the opening-game highlights, and the rest of her teammates followed suit for a dramatic rally and extra-inning win to complete the 10-1, 14-9 Pacific West Conference doubleheader sweep over Academy of Art University Friday afternoon.
Babayan made two crucial catches in the outfield and drove in a career-high four runs in the opener, which the Cougars ended in six innings after a six-run sixth put the mercy rule into effect. In Game 2, with Azusa Pacific down to its final strike in the seventh inning, sophomore DP Janelle Eccles delivered a game-tying two-run home run to force extra innings.
With the score tied at 9-9 in the ninth, the Cougars took advantage of two errors to score five unearned runs, all with two outs in the inning. After sophomore catcher Madison Hernandez drew a one-out walk, Academy of Art could have gotten out of the inning with the score tied when Alexa Peters got two groundballs and an infield popup out of the next three Cougar hitters.
However, the first grounder resulted in a throwing error on an attempted force out at second, and the second baseman dropped the potential third out on another fielder’s choice grounder to the shortstop. As a result, that brought junior centerfielder Renae Chappelle to the plate with the bases loaded, and she drew a walk which was followed by three consecutive hits that gave the Cougars a five-run cushion, all on unearned runs. Junior shortstop Desiree Chavez followed Chappelle’s walk with an RBI single up the middle, freshman rightfielder Abry Moreno singled to left for another run, and junior second baseman Katrina Oviedocapped the outburst with a two-run double to left-center.
The extra-inning win certainly seemed improbable when Azusa Pacific entered the sixth inning trailing by a 6-2 margin, but Babayan and sophomore first baseman Jessica Melcher led off the frame with back-to-back doubles, and Chavez kept the rally going with a one-out squeeze bunt for an RBI single to cut the lead to 6-4. With two outs in the sixth, Oviedo pushed the Cougars in front when she knocked an 0-1 offering over the left-center field fence for a three-run home run.
Academy of Art responded with three runs in the bottom of the sixth, regaining the lead at 9-7 with a chance to end the game with just three defensive outs. Urban Knights starting pitcher Jill Johnson almost did exactly that, retiring the first two Cougars before hitting Melcher with a pitch. With the count at 1-2, Eccles homered to left, her first home run of the season, for the dramatic game-tying hit.
Oviedo led Azusa Pacific’s offense with a career-high five RBIs, and Chavez went four-for-five with three runs and two RBIs to help pace the Cougars’ 14-run, 13-hit attack.
In the opening game, Babayan knocked in the go-ahead run in the third inning to give Azusa Pacific a 2-1 lead before driving in one in the fifth and two more in a six-run sixth. As good as she was at the plate in a three-for-four performance, she may have been even better defensively. She made a diving catch in left-center for the final out of the bottom of the first, keeping runners on second and third from scoring, and two innings later she robbed Art U’s Elise Oldham of a two-run home run by making another highlight-reel catch before tumbling over the outfield fence for the final out of the third inning.
With help from Babayan and the Cougar defense, freshman pitcher Carly Xepoleas was able to scatter five hits and a walk and limit Academy of Art to a single run in her four innings of work. She picked up the win to improve to 14-4, and junior righthander Destinee Levesque notched a two-inning save by striking out two without allowing a hit over the final two innings.
The Cougars blew open a 4-1 game after five innings with a six-run sixth, starting with Chappelle’s one-out solo home run to left-center that pushed the lead to 5-1. The bases were empty with two outs when Academy of Art relief pitcher Alexa Peters walked four consecutive batters, the last three on four pitches each, to load the bases and walk in a run that made it 6-1.
That brought starting pitcher Carlee Emerson back into the game to face Babayan, who knocked the first pitch back up the middle for a two-run single and an 8-1 lead, and Melcher also came up swinging at the first pitch from Emerson to hit a two-run double to right-center that extended the lead to 10-1.
Oviedo opened up the scoring with a one-out solo home run down the left-field line in the top of the first inning, and Academy of Art answered with four consecutive hits to start the bottom of the first. Oldham flew out to right, and Moreno’s throw from the outfield cut down Kamyle Glover at the plate for a double play before Babayan made her diving catch to end the inning.
Babayan’s one-out single through the left side scored Oviedo in the top of the third for a 2-1 lead, and freshman third baseman Nicki Sprague hit an RBI double to go with Babayan’s run-scoring infield single for a two-run fifth that made it 4-1.
With the sweep, Azusa Pacific improves to 35-15 overall and solidifies its hold on third place in the PacWest standings with an 18-10 conference mark. Academy of Art dropped to 12-22 overall and 9-9 in the PacWest.
Azusa Pacific meets up with Academy of Art again Saturday, wrapping up the four-game series with the Urban Knights at noon at Mission Blue Field in Brisbane, Calif.