Cougars sweep Western Oregon in three-game home season opener
The 13th–ranked Azusa Pacific baseball team swept their second series of the season to improve to an 8-0 record in their first action at home. In a three-game series against Western Oregon, the Cougars were able to edge the Wolves thanks to some big at bats from some of the team’s strongest hitters.
“Western Oregon is a really good team and I thought that they played well this weekend,” head coach Paul Svagdis said. “It was a good weekend. We were on the road for five games, so we came back home and playing in our own yard is something fun to do.”
On Friday, the team played a doubleheader against the WOU. In game one, a strong performance by junior starting pitcher Isaiah Carranza kept the Wolves batters in check, allowing only four hits in six innings and recording nine strikeouts. At the plate, senior outfielders Sean Aspinall and Pablo O’Connor and junior catcher Justin Gomez all hit home runs to help the Cougars earn a 7-2 win in game one.
“We have a lot of good hitters, from one through nine, or from one through twelve actually, because there have been guys that have come off the bench and get hot,” Svagdis said.
In game two, freshman third baseman Osvaldo Tovalin broke a 1-1 tie in the sixth inning after hitting a two-run home run, his first career collegiate home run. Tovalin would finish the game going 3-for-5 with two RBI’s. The Wolves would fight their way back into the game, tying the game a four late in the game, forcing extra innings. The game went into the 11th inning, where Aspinall would then hit a walkoff-double, bringing one of his teammates home and winning the game, 4-3.
The final game concluded on Saturday afternoon in a back-and-fourth battle between both teams. APU held a 4-2 lead in the third, but after two consecutive home run shots by Western Oregon’s Nyles Nygaard and Jared McDonald, the Wolves found themselves on top 5-4 in the fourth. The Cougars would respond in the very next inning with junior first baseman Austin Russ hitting a two-run homer, retaking the lead 6-5. The Wolves would tie the game once again in the sixth, but in the seventh, Aspinall hit a solo shot past left field giving the Cougars a 7-6 lead. After this, pitchers Nick Estrella and Layne Henderson were able to close out the evening, and sealing another APU victory.
One of the biggest contributors at bat for the Cougars was Aspinall who finished the series going 5-for-13 and scoring three runs, five RBI and two home runs. Aspinall is now leads the team in home runs (4) and RBIs (11) this season.
Aspinall noted that he didn’t do anything flashy in this series, but was disciplined enough to see what pitches he could take advantage of.
“They had a lot of diversity with their pitching. Guys were throwing at all different angles and speeds, so I was just trying to see the ball as best as I can, determine if it was my pitch and then just hit it,” Aspinall said. “If I got to two strikes, I just tried to protect and put the ball in play, making it hard for them to get me out.”
Another one of the biggest offensive contributors for the Cougars this season has been the true freshman, Tovalin, who has the most at bats (34), most hits (14), is tied for second in runs scored (8), has the second highest batting average on the team (.412) and is third in RBI (7).
In his last two games, Tovalin went 5-for-9, with three runs, two RBI and a home run.
Even though he’s only been playing college baseball for about a week, Tovalin admits that he feels very comfortable when at bat this season.
“I feel pretty comfortable [at the plate],” Tovalin said. “In the first game of the series [against Western Oregon], I didn’t feel that comfortable, but I was able to adjust and hit pretty good in these last two games.”
Even though the team is nationally ranked and undefeated at the moment, the players understand that the season is early and do not want to get ahead of themselves. The mentality is to simply win every game that they can.
“It feels like last season rolled into this season, so the goal is still the same, we’re trying to win every game in whatever way we can,” Aspinall said. “It feels good [being 8-0] right now, but we know that preseason really doesn’t mean anything until we get into the conference championship, go to the playoffs and win the [NCAA Division II] collegiate World Series. Right now, we’re kind of downplaying the 8-0 start because we know what we’re capable of.”
The Cougars will play their next two games next weekend at Cal State San Bernardino, before beginning PacWest Conference play on Feb. 22 against Concordia.