The Cougars continued their strong start with a victory over the Eagles in game one, yet failed to capitalize at the plate and suffered a defeat in game two.
Before their doubleheader against Biola, this past weekend — which was the team’s first inner-conference play of the season — Azusa Pacific’s softball team enjoyed one of the most impressive starts in recent program history.
Despite a 6-3 defeat to Vanguard University, the Cougars entered Saturday’s play with a 3-1 record, including a recent sweep in a doubleheader against Saint Katherine where they outscored their opponent 13-0. However, any game against Cornerstone Cup rival Biola will always be held in different regard. This was especially true when considering who was on the mound for the Eagles.
Senior Paige Austin had one of her most impressive seasons in a shortened 2020 campaign for Biola. She finished the season with a 12-1 record and a 1.53 ERA over the span of 17 appearances, including a team-high 0f 10 complete games. Austin was named the starting pitcher in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader and while the Cougars struggled to reach base during the first two innings, they took advantage of two errors in the top of the third to take an early 2-0 lead.
APU scored another run off of Austin the next inning after Dani Burghardt hit a sacrifice fly, and when the contest ended the score favored the Cougars 5-0 — a third straight shutout. The player of the game proved to be sophomore Liz Phillips, who pitched a complete-game shutout while only giving up three hits and a single walk during those seven innings. It was her fifth complete game and her second shutout in her collegiate career.
“We faced a great pitcher in that first game,” said head coach Carrie Webber. “But Liz has been doing this for us since she came to our program. She has always met every challenge thrown her way. And she was just fantastic in that first game.”
Pitching was not the problem in the Cougars’ loss during Saturday’s second contest. Although the Eagles scored an early run in the first inning, Biola failed to score another tally throughout the remainder of the game as pitcher Aly Montesino allowed just two hits throughout the rest of the game.
Unfortunately for APU, it was a continuous struggle at the plate that led to the loss. Their lowest run total in a contest during this young season before Saturday was three, which they did twice — once in a win and another in defeat.
In game two against Biola, they failed to bring in a single score despite several opportunities, evident by them leaving five runners on base.
“At the end of the day, the girls will need to use those failures at the plate and learn from them, both the good and the bad,” Webber noted. “We had opportunities to tie the game, which we didn’t capitalize on. But learning from a loss like this and responding is key if you want to be the best team you can be on the field.”
Webber, who is heading into her 14th year as the head coach of this program, has little doubts in her mind that that is precisely what her team will do. Despite the roster being transformed with several new faces, she praised the team’s commitment to building a bond under the most difficult of circumstances. Certainly, that chemistry has been on full display in their key early victories of the season, and hope remains that the team will only continue to build off of their hot 4-2 start.
“With the short time this group has had together, the confidence level between them is tremendous. And with all the crazy adjustments they had to make before the season, I have all the confidence in the world that the ladies will grow as a group even more as the season continues. But right now, we need to focus on what’s next and take advantage of the opportunities that are in front of us,” Webber said.
While students will be entering the spring break period, the Cougars season will continue heading into this week as they will be playing San Diego Christian on the road in a doubleheader Tuesday.