Andrew Shortall, Asst. Sports Information Director
RIVERSIDE, Calif. – A big statement was made in the NCAA Division II West Region when California Baptist University completed its PacWest series victory over top-ranked Azusa Pacific on Saturday.
APU won game one of Saturday’s doubleheader at Totman Stadium, 9-3, but the Lancers answered with a 6-1 victory in the finale to take the series, 3-1, from the Cougars, who are ranked first and third in both major D-II polls and sit atop the conference standings.
A pinch-hit grand slam from DJ Porter and dominant relief performance from true freshman Matt Amrhein led CBU to its victory, while its defense shined in game one. CBU’s record improves to 27-15 overall, 18-10 in the PacWest and the Cougars are now 31-7, 18-6.
“We are coming up on the end of our season, and to make our case for a playoff berth, this was a big series to win,” said outfielder Brian Ruhm, who was 3-for-6 on the day. “Even though we didn’t win the first game today, we’ve been playing well, so we stuck to our plan and it worked out for us.”
With two regular-season series left, the Lancers conclude their year at home next week against Hawai’i Hilo before a week off and one more road trip to Concordia University of Irvine May 8-10. The Vulcans visit Totman for four games, starting with single games Wednesday and Thursday at 6 p.m. and ending with a doubleheader Friday starting at 4 p.m.
Nick Plaia (4-for-7) came up with a team-high four hits for the Lancers on Saturday, while Bryce Macy(3-for-7) joined Ruhm with three hits on the day. True freshman Tanner Amaral was a perfect 2-for-2 on the day, recording his first career hit in the opener and following it up with another in the finale.
APU took a first-inning lead in game two and threatened again in the third inning. Two singles and a hit by pitch loaded the bases with two outs, but Amrhein settled down and got a grounder to second base to end the inning.
“I just try to calm myself down in those situations,” Amrhein said. “I know my defense is going to get the job done, that’s why I try to attack the zone as best I can so the defense can make some plays for me.
“One of the biggest things with me sometimes is I get too ahead of myself and speed up the game. Coach told me to slow the game down, so before every pitch I took a deep breath and looked up into the sky at one of the light poles just to calm myself down, think about the next pitch and execute.”
Amrhein got more and more comfortable as the game went on and allowed just one more base runner over his final four innings on the mound. He threw the final 4.2 innings to claim his second win of the season, giving up just two hits and the hit batsman.
“My role is to come in and pound the zone as hard as I can,” Amrhein said. “My delivery is a little funky, so a lot of hitters get real uncomfortable when I’m up there and that’s fine with me.”
CBU was unable to score in the first three innings in the series finale, but broke through in a big way in the fourth. Luke Navigato started things out with a one-out single, and two-out hits from Tommy Belland Plaia loaded the bases.
Coach Gary Adcock went to Porter in a pinch, and the junior blasted a 1-1 pitch deep into the netting in left field to give CBU a 4-1 lead. The Lancers didn’t get complacent and scored another run in each the fifth and sixth innings.
“That was huge for us, that was an older guy slowing the game down and getting a good swing on a really good pitcher,” Ruhm said.
Another home run – a leadoff, solo shot from Ruhm – gave CBU its fifth run in the fifth inning.
“The ball flies a little more during the day at Totman,” Ruhm said. “Coach said he was going to let us swing the bats a little more today and it paid off for us.”
Small ball got the Lancers their sixth run in the sixth inning. A leadoff double and bunt single from Ryan Williams and Amaral got things going, which allowed Alfredo Rodriguez to score Williams from third with a well-executed sacrifice squeeze.
It helped secure the win and series victory over APU, which scored first in the third inning of game one. CBU answered back with two runs in the bottom half for a 2-1 lead in the opener.
The Lancers got their first four runners on in the inning, thanks to a leadoff single from Ruhm, an error and consecutive singles from Navigato and Macy. Navigato drove in the first run and a double-play grounder plated the second.
It was scoreless over the next two innings, until the Cougars scored six in the sixth for a 7-2 edge. APU added two more in the seventh for a 9-2 advantage before Williams hit a solo homer in the eighth to cap the scoring for CBU.
CBU’s defense highlighted the game. Starting pitcher Logan Rinehart allowed seven hits, one walk and three earned runs over five innings, but had the defensive play of the day in the second inning.
APU’s leadoff batter fired a hard grounder off Rinehart’s leg. The ball ricocheted into foul territory on the first-base line, but Rinehart stayed with it and from his knees — and falling forward — shoveled a perfect toss behind his back to record the out.
Sheldon Borson made another spectacular play in the eighth running. In his first play as a defensive replacement at third base, Borson made a bare-handed pick and throw on the run to cut down the leadoff batter at first.