Azusa Pacific ended their season on a disappointing note, dropping both games on Saturday to the UC San Diego Tritons, 6-5 and 16-5, respectively. The Cougars needed to win one contest today after claiming game one yesterday in the best-of-three series in order to advance to the NCAA DII World Series; however, UCSD had other plans and turned on their offense that was missing yesterday.
APU started game two strong with a solo home run from center-fielder Cole Kleszcz on the first pitch, claiming a 1-0 lead. However, the Cougars didn’t score again until the seventh inning, leaving seven men on base in those six innings. APU failed to capitalize with runners-in-scoring-position after two singles to lead off the fourth and then again in the fifth after a walk and a single.
While APU struggled to put runs on the board, UCSD tied it up with a solo shot from shortstop Shay Whitcomb in the bottom of the first, then claimed the lead with another solo bomb from first-baseman Blake Baumgartner in the fourth. The Tritons added to their lead on an RBI single after a walk and a single in the fourth, then again with a solo homer in the bottom of the sixth from designated-hitter Steven Schuknecht, giving UCSD a 4-1 lead.
The Cougars struck back with a solo homer by second-baseman Joe Quire Jr. and a two-run jack to right field by third-baseman Osvaldo Tovalin in the bottom of the seventh, tying it up again 4-4. Left fielder Griffen Herrera kept the rally going with a stand-up triple and catcher Justin Gomez plated him with a go-ahead single to center field.
It looked as though the Cougars would claim victory, with a 5-4 lead after seven innings, but UCSD right-fielder R.J. Prince clobbered a go-ahead 2 run homer to left-center field. APU managed one hit, a single by Herrera, in the ninth, but didn’t score again, leaving the final score 6-5.
APU head coach Paul Svagdis said the Cougars hit well in the game, but struggled to capitalize off UCSD’s excellent pitching.
“I think they were the best pitching staff in the NCAA [DII]. We saw that today,” Svagdis said. “We still had 13 hits today and drove the ball. We came back. We were down, put four [runs] on the board against a really good pitching staff.”
Fired up by their victory in game two, UCSD came out firing on all cylinders in game three. They failed to score in the first inning, but scored in seven of the next eight frames.
The Tritons plated two in the second inning off a walk and three singles. APU starter Declan Kearney walked two and hit one batter to load the bases in the top of the third. Svagdis decided that was enough from Kearney in the winner-takes-all contest and pulled him after 2.1 innings. Reliever John Szczesny got the final two outs of the inning, but the Tritons scored again on a sacrifice fly by left-fielder Keenan Brigman.
UCSD added to their lead in the top of the fourth with a two-run homer by Prince, his second of the day, leading to another APU pitching change. Lefty Gabe Ramos replaced Szczesny, but Ramos didn’t fare much better, allowing four singles in a row before getting an out. Reliever David Wylie replaced Ramos with one out in the fourth, getting the final two outs of the inning.
The Cougars fought back in the bottom of the fourth, loading the bases with two singles and a walk. Designated-hitter Joseph Kim got the first RBI of the game with a ground out to second-base. First-baseman Tito Robles and shortstop Mychael Goudreau each plated a runner with RBI singles, cutting the deficit to 6-3. The Cougars looked to keep the rally going with two on and one out, but center-fielder Casey Dykstra grounded into an inning ending double-play.
UCSD continued their offensive dominance in the fifth, plating five off two doubles, three walks and a three-run homer from Schuknecht, his second of the day, giving the Tritons an 11-3 lead. APU scored one off a double by Tovalin and an RBI single from Kim in the bottom of the fifth to cut the lead to 11-4.
The Cougars made their sixth pitching change to start off the sixth inning, sending reliever Hayden Jorgenson to the mound. Jorgenson notched only the second scoreless frame for APU pitching in the sixth, but gave up a two-run homer to Schuknecht, his third of the day, in the top of the seventh, giving the Tritons a 13-4 lead.
UCSD plated one more in the eighth off an RBI single from Baumgartner, giving the Tritons a 14-4 lead. The Cougars answered with a solo homer from Godreau, cutting the lead to 14-5, but it was too little too late. The Tritons would go on to score two more in the top of the ninth, giving them a 16-5 victory.
Although the Cougars had a strong game offensively, notching five runs on 13 hits, their pitching couldn’t contain the Triton’s offense. APU used a total of 10 different pitchers during the game.
“I made nine poor decisions throughout that process. I think those guys all did a great job for us this year. It’s not on them; it’s on me,” Svagdis said. “I overmanaged a little bit today [since] it was the last game.”
With the victory, the Tritons advanced to the NCAA DII World Series in North Carolina next week, marking their third consecutive appearance in the World Series.
APU will lose six seniors, including three starters in Godreau, Quire, and Gomez, as well as a key reliever in Jorgenson. Svagdis spoke candidly about losing the seniors.
“I couldn’t think of a better group I’ve been around,” Svagdis said. “I’m just proud of them. I know they’re going to be super successful in life when they leave here.”
Gomez, a four-year starter and key piece to the Cougars’ success over the past three seasons, spoke positively after the words from his coach.
“I was a late signee and this place was the one that gave me an opportunity to come here,” Gomez said. “Being able to go off right where I started was definitely one for the books … I wish I would have gone off with a national championship, but there’s no place I would have rather gone off than where I started at Azusa Pacific.”
Gomez, Godreau, Quire and Jorgenson reflected on their time at APU, saying they made lots of great memories and relationships with the team and that what happened off the field was more important than what happened on it. Each of the four also expressed their excitement for the future of APU baseball, with a lot of returning talent next year.
“They’re going to be a really good team,” Gomez said. “I don’t expect anything less than where we are today and taking it even further.”