With their winning streak currently set at nine, the Cougars begin the season (11-2) after this weekend’s series against the Eagles.
To finish Saturday’s second contest of a doubleheader against Biola, Azusa Pacific called on relief pitcher Mike Snyder in the seventh inning to close the game. Although he gave up two runs, he forced a ground-out to catcher Caleb Watson and recorded the third and final out. The two runs proved to be inconsequential, as the Cougars ultimately won the game with a 12-run favor.
However, the 15-3 result was not the exciting component of this weekend. Rather, it was the three previous results that created such jubilation — an excitement that saw junior outfielder Casey Dykstra showcase his agility with a cartwheel transitioned into a backflip down the first baseline, which initiated a roar of elation from all Cougar players.
This is how to celebrate a perfect 5-0 week including a four-game series sweep of Biola: pic.twitter.com/mxr1dbB7AX
— APUBaseball (@APUBaseball) March 21, 2021
In their first PacWest series of the season, the Cougars swept the Eagles in four games which added to their already impressive start to the season. The Cougars hold a 7-2 record before this weekend’s action. The results were exceptional, and the way those outcomes were obtained makes it even more impressive.
APU averaged a run total of 10.5 per game in the series, while the pitching staff responded to that run support by only allowing 4.5 runs per game. Friday’s victories were close affairs, as both games ended in two-run deficits. However, Saturday’s contests made it clear that the Cougars were the better team. Head coach Paul Svagdis credits that success to his team’s preparation.
“We’re a practice-oriented team rather than an outcome-oriented team,” he said. “We’ve been seeing great outcomes recently, but as a team, we are more focused and more diligent when considering our processes in practice, meaning how we approach our at-bats and our pitching strategies. There will be times when those processes don’t lead to favorable results, but they will always be our most important component when considering the long haul.”
Saturday’s triumph was highlighted by the team’s brilliance in all facets of the game. The Cougars offense got it rolling in the fourth inning of the first game. Down 3-0 heading into the bottom of the fourth, the next six Cougar batters reached base safely, including a grand slam from catcher Aaron Roose — the first of his APU career. When the fourth came to a close, the Cougars were leading 7-3. They didn’t look back for the remainder of the nine innings, adding four more runs to their total to win 11-3.
The second half of the doubleheader was the same. Although the Cougars once again struggled to bring in runs early in the game, their offense flipped the switch in the later innings, scoring 13 runs between the fourth and seventh innings. Third baseman Osvaldo Tovalin was the leader of that offensive surge, going 3-for-4 from the plate and bringing in five runs. It was his third five-RBI performance with APU.
The starters over this series were also major highlights for the Cougars. The experience was key to such strong outings, as four-year player A.J. Woodall and fifth-year transfer Cory Dawson are essential pieces of the staff. Nick Estrella, who is playing in his fifth year after the extra year of eligibility handed out to NCAA players, was the strongest arm of the weekend, throwing five innings and accumulating six strikeouts while only giving up a single run.
“I’m a massive believer that when you have really strong pitching, it allows you the ability to score runs,” said Svagdis. “It’s like a heavyweight fight. When your best arm goes against their best bats and they pitch zero-zero-zero, it’ll wake up the offense and make hitters more comfortable with the process they should be taking at the plate. Our guys proved that through the entire series.”
An exciting week for Cougars baseball, Svagdis also admits that it is important to not let the emotion of an impressive weekend take control. The start to this 2021 season is precisely what the team anticipated, as they have waited nearly a year to play meaningful games again. Yet, an 11-2 record does not mean that the team is near where they want to be. Growth is destined, and this weekend was simply another opportunity to achieve that overarching goal.
“I’ve coached a long time here and there’s been a lot of great weekends for the program, and seeing these guys being able to play after everything they’ve been through has been amazing to see. But right now we’re looking at the end game instead of the right now,” Svagdis mentioned. “It’s still very early on in the season, so we’ll continue to have integrity in our process and hope for similar results.”
The Cougars will continue their season with another PacWest series, as they will play back-to-back doubleheaders against Concordia Irvine next Friday and Saturday, who recently split their four-game series against Point Loma. You can watch all four games through Cougar All-Access.