ST. GEORGE – There was high drama Saturday at Bruce Hurst Field.
Bases loaded. Two outs. Tie game in extra innings. The Azusa Pacific Cougars had just walked DSU’s Tanner Morache to load the bases. Coming to the plate was DSU career-hits leader Drew McLaughlin. McLaughlin chased a low pitch for strike one. The second baseman’s frustration was obvious as he kicked the dirt after the swing.
“I thought he was going to come at me and throw a fastball,” said McLaughlin. “The next pitch was the same, a curve ball, and I was ready for it.” The grounder found its way up the middle for a base hit. With the RBI single, the Trailblazers came back from an early 6-0 deficit to Azusa Pacific to win in extra innings, 7-6.
“One of the characteristics we try to emulate is resiliency,” said Dixie State head coach Chris Pfatenhauer. “I give credit to my coaching staff for keeping the players focused and in the ball game.”
A two-run home run by Michael Staudinger in the first contributed to an early 4-0 lead in the first for the Cougars. They added a run in both the second and third innings to climb to a commanding 6-0 lead.
“Assistant Coach Bobby Rinard is good about keeping our heads in the game,” said DSU shortstop Tanner Morache. “A lot of teams would throw in the towel at that point, but he reminded us it was early and our bats have been good this weekend.”
In the fourth inning, the Trailblazers began to chip away at the lead. Reece Lucero hit a double down the left field line to score Ryan Rodriguez. In the next inning, Jerome Hill II got aboard with a single to center field. Mildenberg moved him to second with a sacrifice bunt. Hill then stole third. Morache singled through the right side to score Hill. Later in the inning Sam Hall hit a two-out single up the middle advancing Morache to third. Rodriguez singled to center field to score Morache. Rodriguez was caught at second on the play for the final out, but DSU had halved the lead 6-3.
In the bottom of the seventh, DSU struck again. The inning began with a Morache single up the middle. McLaughlin followed with a single to third base. Sam Hall singled to right field to score Morache and move McLaughlin to third. Rodriguez grounded out to second, but scored McLaughlin on the play and moved Hall to second. Miles Bice then singled to right center to score Hall. The Trailblazers had come all the way back to tie the score at 6-6.
Both teams had opportunities to win the game prior to the extra innings. Both teams used their bullpens liberally to get out of jams.
“We used eight pitchers today,” said Pfatenhauer. “But look at the result from our relief. They did not score after the third inning.” After getting seven hits in the first three frames, the Cougars would get only six more over the final seven innings.
In the 10th inning, the first Cougar batter was hit by relief pitcher Chance Abrath. After getting the first out, the next batter singled to left. The two runners then advanced on a wild pitch. The decision then came to walk the next batter, Adrian Tovalin, the Cougars top home run hitter, to load the bases. The strategy paid off as the next batter hit into a double play to end the inning.
Lucero started off the bottom of the 10th with a single through the left side. Trey Reineke came in to run for Lucero. Tanner Harper was then hit on his first pitch to put runners at first and second. Hill then reached on a fielder’s choice when his bunt was fielded and thrown to third for the out. Tyler Mildenberg hit a grounder to second and reached first base before the Cougars could complete the double play. With runners at the corners, the Cougars decided to intentionally walk Morache to load the bases and set up the last at-bat for McLaughlin.
During the game, Morache broke the record with the most hits in a single season. This comes on the heels of McLaughlin setting the career hits record Friday.
“Every couple of years I say this,” said Pfatenhauer. “I am coaching a tremendous talent. These two guys are both tremendous talents. I feel privileged to be coaching them.”
Abrath got the win in relief to move to 3-3. Billy Sanford took the loss for APU (0-2). DSU moves to 32-10 overall and 20-8 in the PacWest, one game ahead of APU in the loss column. The Cougars fall to 20-18 overall and 15-9 in the PacWest.
The Trailblazers now get a much-needed six-day break. “We have some guys that are dinged up,” said Pfatenhauer. “Hopefully they can get healthy before the next series against HPU.
DSU hosts the Sharks of Hawaii Pacific for their final home game series. The series will be played as two doubleheaders beginning Friday, Apr. 22. Game time for the first game is set for 4 p.m.
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