In Azusa Pacific’s 20-year history of the sport, no one has dominated the Cougars quite like Cal State Bakersfield, which had won 18 of 24 previous meetings. And tonight’s showdown with the first real test of a Cougar squad that had won 7 of its first 8 games against teams not on par with Cal State Bakersfield.
“I’d say we passed the test,” said Cougar coach Sharon Lehman. “I’m really proud of the girls. In fact, I told them after the game that I’d never been more proud of a team. They’ve worked hard to comeback from a difficult season (2004), and all that work showed in tonight’s performance.”
The Cougars wasted little time putting the pressure on Cal State Bakersfield, scoring 3 runs in the first inning. Rachel Alkire’s sharp single to left plated Natalie Mickelson to put the Cougars up 2-0 and when Roadrunner leftfielder Amber Mills let the ball slip by, Megan Alkire came around for another run.
In the meantime, Cougar pitcher Kris Franks danced in and out of trouble, relying on a defense to thwart Roadrunner rallies. With Azusa Pacific leading 3-1 in the fifth inning, Cal State Bakersfield put runners at second and third with 1 out. However, Franks induced a sharp grounder to second that Megan Alkire made a nice play on to keep the game-tying run from scoring, and then got some added help from third baseman Rachel Yoshizu, who made the first of several excellent stops at her post to get the third out of the inning.
After Azusa Pacific added an insurance run in the bottom of the fifth to go up 4-2, Cal State Bakersfield came back in the seventh to put runners at first and third with 2 outs. Again Yoshizu made a spectacular play at third, stopping a bullet down the line to get the second out of the inning. Franks then got Allison Amezcua to hit a lazy fly ball to right field to end the game. Franks, who came into the game with 22 strikeouts in 20.1 innings of work, struck out just 1 Roadrunner and scattered 7 hits
“Kris didn’t have her best stuff tonight,” said Lehman, “but she worked hard and battled through it.”
The Cougars followed nearly the same script in the nightcap, jumping on the Roadrunners in the first inning. With 1 out, Mickelson clocked a 2-1 offering deep over the centerfield fence to also score Courtney Cleaves and put Azusa Pacific up 2-0.
“I’m really relaxed at the plate,” said the freshman Mickelson who hit her fourth home run of the season in just her tenth collegiate game. “I’m not pressured at this level to hit a home run every time. This team is very good through all the line-up, and if I don’t do it, I know somebody else will.”
That someone else tonight was Tami Carter, who in the second inning duplicated Mickelson’s effort with another 2-run bomb to centerfield, scoring Cassie Sweeney who had led off the inning with a triple, increasing the Cougar lead to 4-0. The Alkire twins then added back-to-back run-scoring singles to give Azusa Pacific a comfortable 6-0 lead before the second inning was out.
The 6 runs was more than enough for Cougar pitcher Michelle Coleman, who followed her first-ever no-hitter on Saturday with another gem against the national power Roadrunners. Coleman surrendered 1 unearned run and yielded just 6 singles to CSUB in picking up her third win of the season. She has now gone 12 inning without giving up an earned run.
“This is a lot of fun,” said Coleman, who is now in her fourth year in the program. “I love playing with this team. It was easy to relax tonight after they gave me so much support early in the game. I just relaxed and knew that my team was behind me.”
In the fifth inning, Megan Alkire poked her third home run of the season over the left field wall to Azusa Pacific only its second ever 7-run game vs. a Cal State Bakersfield team.
“I’m excited about this team,” said Coleman. “I’m ready to go to battle with these girls. We click so well.”
Megan Alkire finished the night 3-for-4 with 2 runs and 2 RBIs. Rachel Alkire was 2-for-5 with 2 RBIs. Cleaves was 3-for-6 with 4 runs.
“This was beyond talent tonight,” said Lehman. “This was a lot of fun. We were all enjoying playing the game against such a quality team like Bakersfield. I think after a year of running into bad luck we’re back as a contender.”
With the sweep Azusa Pacific improves to 9-1 on the season while Cal Stat Bakersfield falls to 6-4.