The Azusa Pacific baseball team will be bidding for a berth in the National Assn. of Intercollegiate Athletics championship tournament when its plays host to the NAIA Area I playoffs today through Saturday.
The Cougars, who won their first NAIA District III title since 1988 with a 15-6 victory over The Master's in the district final last week, will take a 32-11 record into the double-elimination tournament.
In addition to Azusa, the four-team tournament also includes district champions Whitworth of Washington, George Fox of Oregon and Hawaii Pacific. Whitworth (21-16) won District I, George Fox (24-19) District II and Hawaii Pacific (25-15) District III.
Azusa will open against Whitworth in the second game at 3 p.m. today. Hawaii Pacific plays George Fox in the first game at 11 a.m.
Elimination play will continue with three games Friday and the championship game will be Saturday. The winner advances to the 10-team NAIA championship tournament May 23-28 at Lewis-Clark State in Lewiston, Ida.
The Cougars have not reached the NAIA nationals since 1984, when they finished second. But 16th-ranked Azusa is the only team in the Area I playoffs that was listed in the final regular season NAIA poll.
Azusa enters the tournament with a strong offense and steady pitching.
The offensive leaders have been senior second baseman Eric Jeffres, junior utility player Reuben Granados and senior outfielder Chris Hanna. Jeffres has the team lead in home runs with 10 and shares the lead in batting with Granados at .377.
Leading the pitching staff are senior starter Craig Hale, who has an 8-3 record and 3.40 earned-run average, and junior reliever Chris Matkin, who has a 4-1 record and 2.05 ERA and was credited with the win in the district final against The Master's.
After defeating East Los Angeles College in the first round of the state community college baseball playoffs last week, Citrus College will meet Pierce in the second round of the Southern California Regionals at 11 a.m. Friday at Harbor College in Wilmington.
The four-team, double-elimination regional tournament also includes Harbor and Cypress. The winner advances to the state tournament May 25-27 in Sacramento.
Citrus (26-15) defeated East Los Angeles, 5-1 and 4-2, to take a best-of-three series in the first round. Pierce defeated College of the Desert in three games in opening-round play.
Citrus, which won the Foothill Conference title, has received strong pitching from Joe Long, Keven Kloek and Armando Delsi. Long was 7-2 with a 1.64 earned-run average in conference play, Kloek was 5-1 with a 3.01 ERA and Delsi was 4-0 with a 2.40 ERA.
Delsi, who batted .433 in conference play, was also selected the conference player of the year. Another leader for the Owls has been infielder Peter Muro, who batted .478 in conference play.
The Mt. San Antonio College baseball team, which advanced to the state community college playoffs and was eliminated by Riverside last week, has placed six players on the All-South Coast Conference first team.
Leading the list is pitcher and third baseman Shawn Wooten, who was named co-player of the year along with outfielder Mike Hubel of Cerritos. Wooten was 7-2 and batted .389.
Other Mounties who were honored included catcher Kevin Lidle, outfielder Manny Ochoa, infielders Steve Blacklock and Eric White and pitcher Scott Green, all first-team selections.
In addition, shortstop John Strycula and pitcher and infielder Pete DeSimoni made the second squad.