After finally experiencing their first loss of the season, Azusa Pacific baseball bounced back to win series against Dixie State and improve to 17-1.
The Azusa Pacific baseball went through the entire month of February undefeated, beginning the season 16-0 and ranked as the No. 1-ranked team in the nation. It was the best start for the Cougars in program history. That win streak finally ended this past weekend against Dixie State, yet the Cougars still won the four-game series in Utah, 3-1, and improved to an overall record of 17-1, remaining in first place of NCAA Division II baseball.
The Cougars understood that this series would be tough, as Dixie State has had a very good baseball team over the past few years.
“Dixie is a perennial regional playoff team. Both of us finished in the top two last year in the league, so it’s always nice to go on the road and win a series,” head coach Paul Svagdis said.
On Thursday, the Cougars popped-off in their doubleheader performance against the Trailblazers. Alongside with phenomenal pitching, the Cougars offense erupted, scoring a total of 21 runs off of 26 hits in a 13-7 and an 8-2 sweep.
The biggest contributor for the Cougars was junior first-baseman Austin Russ, who hit a three-run home run in both games on Thursday.
On Friday, Dixie State answered back, not only handing APU their first loss, but crushing the Cougars by a score of 14-3.
Svagdis believes that every game is a learning experience for this team. After the loss, he wanted to play some of his younger players in order to give them experience and see what they could do against a good opponent.
“Getting hammered like we did provided us an opportunity to play some of our younger players and build that experience, so we brought a lot of guys off the bench and they did a heck of a job,” Svagdis said.
On Saturday, the Cougars answered back strong, scoring 14 runs of their own, and winning the final game of the series 14-9. The 14 runs scored was a new season high for the Cougars, raising their scoring average to 10.1 runs per game through their first 18 games.
“We had a 16-game win streak going, so we certainly went out of that win streak, getting smashed [on Friday],” Svagdis said. “That last game was a big game for both teams – Dixie is trying to salvage a split and we know that anytime we can win a series on the road, it’s a big deal. To respond the way that we did after a tough loss, I was really proud of those guys.”
Once again, Russ was a big part in the Cougars’ victory on Saturday, going 3-4 at bat with two runs scored and four RBIs. Over the four-game series, Russ went 8-for-11 (a .727 batting average) with five runs, five extra-base hits including three home runs, and 10 RBIs.
“I was really excited for him. He’s a great player and he’s a first-year guy for us. He really had a great weekend and carried us. It’s nice to see that different players are stepping up each weekend. It’s not the same guy all the time,” Svagdis said. “One weekend it could be Russ, the following it could be Aspinall, then Tovalin, then O’Connor – we really believe in the process that it’s a full team effort and every guy can have a positive impact whether it’s one bat in a four-game series or if it’s 20. Russ has done a great job. He had to earn that opportunity and he certainly did.”
The team’s mentality and focus are at an all-time high at the moment. Svagdis explained that their loss wasn’t due to the pressure of being perfect, but simply the result of everyone having a bad game.
“We really didn’t focus too much on being undefeated. I think our guys are a pretty mature group and we realize that there are probably not a lot of college baseball teams who went 50-0,” Svagdis said. “At some point, we knew we would get a loss dropped on us, so we really didn’t focus on that. We just focused on our process and that’s how we play the game. You can learn from everything, from the success and the failure, so we certainly aren’t going to let that game go by without figuring some things out.”
The Cougars will look to continue their success as the No. 1 seed and will play their next four-game series at Fresno Pacific on Thursday, March 8 through Saturday, March 10.