Cougars suffer first series loss of the season in heavyweight battle with No. 21 California Baptist
After beginning the season with a program best 33-3 record, the Azusa Pacific baseball team is now 34-6 after playing against rival, No. 21 California Baptist in a four-game series at home. The Cougars won game one without much competition on Thursday but were outplayed in the following three games.
This was the first time all season that the Cougars not only lost a series, but also lost two or more consecutive games in a row. It all sparks some dissatisfying déjà vu from last season, where the 2017 Cougars began their season 30-4, before going 1-3 against CBU around the same point of the season.
“We didn’t play well. We didn’t pitch well, we didn’t hit well, we didn’t play well defensively. They were better than us today,” head coach Paul Svagdis said. “Some days, players have good days and on others, they have off days. Their guy had an off day on Thursday. Their guys pitched well the next three games and ours did not.”
In game one, the Cougars were in the driver’s seat from the very beginning. CBU scored the first run of the game in the first, making it the first earned run that junior pitcher Isaiah Carranza has allowed in the first inning all season, but the Cougars answered back strongly, scoring four runs in the first inning as well and earning a 4-1 lead. Three of those four first inning runs came off of junior first-baseman Austin Russ, who drilled a three-run home run
From then on out, the Cougars were playing as if it were batting practice. Senior outfielder Pablo O’Connor hit his own three-run home run in the second, and after a few more Cougar runs, Russ came back to hit a grand slam in the third inning, giving the Cougars a 12-1 lead.
Russ finished the day going 2-for-5, with two home runs and seven RBI’s.
Between the fifth and seventh innings, APU would have four more home runs – two more coming from O’Connor (solo HR and two-run HR) and the other two coming from senior outfielder Sean Aspinall (both solo HR’s).
O’Connor went 3-for-4 on the evening, with five runs and six RBI’s. All three of O’Connor’s hits were home runs. Aspinall also went 3-for-4 with three runs and two RBI’s.
The 17-4 win was also CBU’s worst loss of the season (most runs scored against them was nine to Biola and Point Loma). The Lancers had allowed only nine home runs all season before facing the Cougars, who had put up seven in one game against six different pitchers.
The next two games of the series, however, seemed to be the exact opposite. In games two and three, CBU took out the No. 1-ranked Cougars by a score of 13-2, handing the Cougars their first two consecutive losses of the season.
The Lancers’ three wins were highlighted by sophomore pitcher/third baseman and DH Andrew Bash. Bash, a duel-threat pitcher and hitter led his team in batting average (.407), RBI’s and home runs entering the series against APU – and he created havoc for the Cougars. In game two, Bash went 3-for-4 with three runs and four RBI’s. In game three, Bash was CBU’s starting pitcher and held the Cougars scoreless in the first six innings of play while going 3-for-5 with three runs and three RBI’s.
Bash’s performance, along with consistent play from many other CBU players shifted the momentum to their side, shutting down the powerful Cougars hitting offense and finding holes within the pitching and defense.
“I think that they were just more prepared than we were. They beat us in every part of the game – fielding, pitching and hitting, so it was hard to compete against that when all three are not going for you,” senior outfielder Sean Aspinall said.
The fourth and final game of the series was the closest contest between the two squads, but once again, luck was not in the Cougars corner as they would lose 2-7. The APU offense and pitching rotation continued to struggle as the Cougars continued to find themselves in the same situations – leaving base runners stranded on offense and not being able to close out innings after getting the first two outs.
The three losses are unfortunate for the Cougars, but sophomore infielder Mychael Goudreau believes that their losses came from a lack of execution, rather than preparation.
“It’s the way baseball is. One day you’ll find holes, one day you won’t. You can square a ball up and it could be caught or you could get jammed and one will nestle. That’s the way baseball is and we just got to keep hitting the ball hard, which I think we did well for the most part, but you got to come clutch with two outs which we didn’t do at times, but I think we had a good plan and sometimes the ball just didn’t fall for us,” Goudreau said.
Nonetheless, the Cougars remain optimistic about their last two remaining series of the season as they look to improve and fix up any weaknesses that may have been exposed this weekend.
“I think that there are tons of areas that we could improve on and that we’re going to for the next upcoming series. I think it starts with our offense, but we can do better defensively. We have work to do but we’ll be alright,” Goudreau said.
Aspinall feels the same way as Goudreau and believes that these loses can serve as a reality check for the team, giving them a form of adversity that they haven’t faced all season until now.
“We have to flush it as quickly as possible, just get over it, and then come back and work harder. They exposed some of our weaknesses, so now we know what we need to work on and what we need to capitalize on. It may be a blessing in disguise… I think we’ve been kind of cruising a little bit, so it was kind of a kick in the butt,” Aspinall said. “It was a reality check – they’re a playoff team and I don’t think we faced off against a playoff team yet.”
With the three straight loses, it’s likely that the Cougars will lose their No. 1-ranking in the NCAA Division II, a spot that they had held since mid-February. The team knows that they will have to finish the regular season strong against tough opponents in the next few weeks.
The Cougars will get set to play at Biola University for a four-game series beginning on Thursday, April 26, before ending their regular season at home in their last four-game series against Point Loma starting on May 7.