After qualifying for the GSAC Baseball Tournament last Saturday, Westmont Baseball wanted to show that it was about more than just getting to the postseason. They did that in the first game of the tournament on Saturday by defeating host and top-seeded Azusa Pacific 12-5. The runs were the most given up by the fourth-ranked Cougars this year.
The Warriors will next play at 2:15 p.m. on Wednesday against the loser of the Biola-Master’s game to be played later tonight. Azusa will take on the Fresno Pacific-Concordia game loser, beginning at 11:00 a.m. The winners of those two games will face each other at 5:30 p.m.
After giving up three runs in the bottom of the first inning on a three-run blast by Cougars’ first baseman Jordan Leyland, Westmont starter Tim Leary (5-5) settled into his role on the mound and did not surrender another run until the sixth. Leary, who was awarded the win, pitched eight innings, giving up four runs on seven hits. He struck out four and walked two.
Leary’s pitch count was at 50 after two innings of play, but he needed only 68 more pitches to complete the next six innings.
“Tim has been great for us all year,” said Westmont right fielder Coby Cress. “It is a testament to how hard he works. He deserves all the success he has had.”
Leary wasn’t the only one to respond to the Warriors’ 3-0 deficit. With one away in the bottom of the second inning, Cress powered a solo home run to left field. One out later, left fielder Mitch Petrak did the same, cutting the Warriors deficit to 3-2.
“It was important to get back,” said third baseman David Gabel. “It was important not only to get a couple of runs, but it gave the team confidence. You never want to go down 3-0, but when you can bounce back and get runs quickly, it brings the team moral up and encourages everybody to keep going.”
“I am excited for our guys and the way they came out and competed, especially after giving up the three spot in the first inning against what they know is a great offense,” said Westmont head coach Robert Ruiz. “APU is a good team that has only lost at home once this year before today. Our guys are competitors and wanted to be in the game. This program hasn’t been in the postseason in 15 years, but these guys didn’t step out on the field afraid today. As a coaching staff, what stands out to us is that they want to be in this tournament and want to win it. We have our sights set on winning the first pitch tomorrow.”
In the top of the third inning, Westmont added five more to its total to take the lead by a 7-4 score. With one away, catcher Brandon Gildea singled down the left field line and was replaced at first by courtesy runner Steven Motush. Second baseman David Pennington and center fielder J.J. Turbin each received a free pass to first to load the bases with one out.
That brought up Leary, who sent a 0-1 pitch to the right center field fence for a double that drove in Motush and Pennington. Phil Prickett took Leary’s place on the base pads as the second courtesy runner of the inning.
Cress then hit the ball sharply to first where it was misplayed. Turbin scored on the play and Prickett tried to do the same after receiving the green light as he rounded third. However, the throw from right field was on target and Prickett was thrown out at the plate.
Next up was Gabel who produced the Warriors’ third home run of the game, driving in Cress in the process.
An unusual play in the bottom of the third got Leary out of a bit of a jam. With men on first and second and one away, APU base runner Brent Warren took off to steal third. Leary, however, had not started his forward motion and instead threw to second base. Warren was caught in a run down. In the meantime, Leyland dashed from first two second. When he saw Warren trying to return to second, Leyland tried to retreat to first. Both runners were tagged out to end the inning.
The top of the fourth brought more Warrior offense. First baseman Trevor Christianson led off with the Warriors’ fourth home run of the game, this one to right field. One out later, Gildea singled to right center and again was replaced by Motush on the base pads. After Pennington was walked, Turbin flew out to left for the second out. That brought up Leary who was walked to load the bases with two away. Prickett was called upon to run for Leary.
A single by Cress to left center drove in Motush and Pennington. Gabel then doubled down the right field line to score both Prickett and Cress, giving the Warriors a 12-3 advantage.
“It was a fun day,” said Gabel. “Coaches are always telling us to get top half and to be aggressive and to see our pitch and drive it, which is all part of sticking to the process. They threw the ball where I was looking for it and it ended up going a long way.
“Everyone was hitting well today,” continued Gabel. “It is fun when you can build off of the momentum that other people are producing ahead of you and work as a team to produce as many runs as possible.”
The Cougars picked up one run in the bottom of the sixth on a solo home run by designated hitter J.C. Aguayo and another in the ninth on a single to center by pinch hitter Trevor Lothrop that drove in center fielder Matt Kimmel.
The Warriors victory was particularly rewarding as it came against a team that swept the Warriors in four closely contested games during the regular season.
“We had a lead every single game,” said Gabel of the earlier losses. “The sweep fueled our fire. As soon as we knew we were in the playoffs and going to be playing APU, we wanted to come out and show that we could compete with them.”