TROUTVILLE, Va. — Azusa Pacific didn’t get the start or the finish it wanted in Friday’s National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA) Softball National Championship, but between the pair of defeats was a 3-0 elimination-game victory over Central Baptist (Ark.), which clinched the seventh 40-win season in Cougar softball history.
Freshman lefthander Carly Xepoleas and junior righthander Destinee Levesque teamed up for a combined one-hitter in the win, with Xepoleas taking a no-hit bid into the fifth inning. A bunt single to lead off the fifth gave Central Baptist its first baserunner since a first-inning, two-out walk, but Xepoleas retired the next three before Levesque retired six of the seven hitters she faced for the two-inning save.
Starting the day with a 4-0 deficit to Union (Tenn.) as the teams resumed Thursday’s game at the point which it was suspended due to rain, Azusa Pacific climbed back into the game before suffering an eventual 8-5 loss. Following the shutout win over Central Baptist to keep its tournament hopes alive, the Cougars took a 1-0 lead over Campbellsville (Ky.) through four innings before committing three errors that led to a six-run fifth-inning outburst and a 6-2 season-ending defeat.
Freshman third baseman Nicki Sprague added to her single-season hits record with three more singles, and her final season batting average of .492 (87-for-177) is also a new program-record. The victory gave Azusa Pacific 40 wins, and the Cougars finished the season 40-19 overall, its second 40-win season in the past three years.
The Cougars trailed Union 4-0 in the opener on Thursday afternoon after Reagan Schrader hit a second-inning two-out grand slam, and the game was called for rain after Azusa Pacific put two runners on base with two outs in the bottom of the second. That’s where the game resumed Friday, and junior centerfielder Renae Chappelle got the day started with the first of three consecutive hits that cut Union’s lead in half.
However, the Bulldogs added two more two-out runs in the fourth inning, along with single runs in the fifth and sixth innings to build its lead to 8-3. The Cougars cut the lead to 8-5 on sophomore first baseman Jessica Melcher’s two-out RBI double and a Union error, but the two-out rally ended there and sent Azusa Pacific into the elimination bracket.
With Xepoleas cruising through the early innings against Central Baptist, the Cougar offense scored all three of its runs in the third inning. Chappelle and freshman rightfielder Abry Moreno scored on junior second baseman Katrina Oviedo’s one-out double, and Oviedo scored on a fielder’s choice with Sprague at the plate to give Xepoleas a lead to protect.
The victory sent Azusa Pacific right back onto the field for another elimination game, and Xepoleas took another no-hit bid into the fifth inning while holding a 1-0 lead against Campbellsville. In the third inning, junior shortstop Desiree Chavez reached on a two-out infield single, and she stole second and third before scoring on Moreno’s two-out infield hit.
Again, the fifth-inning leadoff batter broke up Xepoleas’ no-hitter, but Azusa Pacific committed three errors around five Campbellsville hits that all added up to a six-run inning and a 6-1 deficit for the Cougars to make up with just two innings remaining.
Melcher recorded an infield hit and scored on a two-out error in the seventh, cutting the lead to 6-2, but Campbellsville recorded the final out to clinch the victory and eliminate the Cougars from the tournament.
Four different Cougars registered three hits on the day, led by Chavez (three-for-six) along with Moreno (four-for-10), Sprague (three-for-nine), and Melcher (three-for-10). Xepoleas started all three games and registered the decision all three times, finishing the year with an 18-7 overall record. She struck out seven batters in 11 innings of work at the tournament, while Levesque tallied a save and seven strikeouts in 5.1 innings of tournament relief work.