The Cougars continued their winning ways with 4-0 series sweep against Hawai’i Hilo
Azusa Pacific’s baseball team swept Hawai’i Hilo (UHH) in a four game series to improve to 20-9 on the season. Despite a close fourth game, APU dominated the series, scoring a whopping 52 runs compared to UHH’s five.
This was the Cougars’ second consecutive sweep on home field, after they swept Hawai’i Pacific in four games last week.
APU won the first game of the series 10-2. Despite the score, the game remained fairly competitive throughout. In fact, Hawai’i held a one run lead entering the third inning. It wasn’t until a seven-run bottom of the sixth when APU took command.
Senior catcher Justin Gomez initiated the scoring with a bases loaded single, and finished the game with two RBI’s. Then sophomore Joseph Kim hit a double that brought in two more runs, increasing the Cougars’ lead to 6-2. From that point on, the Cougars rolled to an easy eight run victory.
APU’s offense erupted for a season high 22 runs in the second game. Left fielder Griffen Herrera led the team with four RBIs off of a double and a home run. Senior captain Joe Quire Jr. and sophomore Casey Dykstra both had three RBIs. A total of ten Cougars collected at least one RBI, with 13 scoring one run or more.
Along with the overwhelming offense, APU’s pitching staff also dominated UHH, collectively throwing a shutout. Starter James Acuna pitched four innings, throwing three strikeouts to just one walk. Freshman reliever Gabe Ramos threw three innings, only giving up three hits. Overall, UHH collected just nine hits compared to APU’s 17 in the game.
“It feels nice to be on this hot streak, especially on home field. Both offense and pitching have been phenomenal for the past several games,” said head coach Paul Svagdis. “But even with these dominant wins, it is important that we don’t get overconfident. There is still a lot of work to be done before the season is over.”
The final two matchups of the series took place on Saturday. The third game was a little more competitive, but was still very one sided. Thanks to outfielder Cole Kleszcz’s three RBI’s and Nick Estrella’s dominant six innings on the mound, the Cougars cruised to a 17-2 victory, clinching the series.
APU’s dominant play slowed down by game four. The Cougars scored first in the bottom of the second, when Herrera hit a solo shot. However, UHH tied it in the fifth when first baseman RJ Romo hit an RBI single. The score was unknotted the next inning thanks to another Herrera homer, which gave APU a 3-1 lead.
“It feels amazing to be able to play to the best of my abilities,” Herrera said. “I’m seeing the ball well at the plate, and I’m just getting good contact on the ball. But I couldn’t do it without my teammates and coaches, they deserve all the credit.”
UHH remained persistent in the top of the seventh with the bases loaded and only one out. Cougars relief pitcher Hayden Jorgenson came into the game and punching out the first batter and then drawing a groundout that ended the game and clinched the series sweep. For Jorgenson, that was his second save of the season.
Following their commanding performances over the past two weeks, the Cougars will face rival Biola.
“It’s always great to play Biola on our turf. It’s such an amazing rivalry that our program and APU as a whole has developed over the years,” Kleszcz said. “Coming off of two big weekends we’re feeling very confident, and hopefully that confidence will be there following the series against BU.”
The Cougars hope to not let the emotion behind the series negatively affect their play. They know that at this point of the season, it is about playing to the best of their abilities and growing as a team.
“It’s the middle of the year, and we seem to be getting better as the season progresses,” Svagdis said. “I think at this point of the season that is what we need to focus on more than anything.”
The first game against Biola will be at home on Friday March 29.