Linfield Sweeps PLU to Wrap Up NCAA Berth
McMINNVILLE, Ore. - Pacific Lutheran entered its final three-game series of the 2010 regular season needing two wins to clinch the outright Northwest Conference baseball championship and the NCAA Division III regional automatic bid. Linfield had other plans, however, sweeping the Lutes 7-4 and 11-1 in a doubleheader Saturday afternoon at Roy Helser Field.
The Wildcats (29-10, 19-4 NWC) moved ahead of the Lutes (30-9, 18-5 NWC) in the conference standings with one game to play. By virtue of its two wins Saturday, Linfield earned the NWC’s automatic berth to the NCAA Division III regional playoffs, which begin May 19 at Helser Field.
The two teams will conclude the 2010 regular season Sunday afternoon. A PLU victory would give the Lutes a share of the Northwest Conference crown, their third in four years. The Lutes are still hopeful of receiving an at-large bid to the regional tournament. Those bids will be decided next weekend.
Linfield received strong pitching performances from both of its starters in sweeping the No. 16-ranked Lutes.
Ryan Larson went the nine-inning distance in the opener, allowing four earned runs on 12 hits, three of them by Sammy Davis. He limited more potential trouble by striking out six and walking none.
The Wildcats jumped on PLU starter Trey Watt for two runs in the first, weathered a mid-game rally, then slammed the door shut in the late innings to salt away the victory.
Tyson Smith lined the first pitch he saw into left field for a base hit and then stole second, his first of two in the game. Dustin Smith then drew a walk and, after a sacrifice bunt, both came in on Cole Bixenman's base hit.
The Lutes didn’t flinch, scoring three runs in the top of the second inning. Brock Gates drilled a two-out double down the left-field line and scored on Corey Moore’s RBI single. A two-run homer by Ethan Ottemiller, his first of the season, put PLU in front, 3-2.
Bixenman tied the game with his 11th home run of the season, a solo blast to begin the Linfield fourth. Kelson Brown gave the Wildcats a 4-3 lead in the fifth with a double that scored Eric Evenson, who led off inning with a double. A three-run seventh inning gave Larson and the Wildcats some breathing room. Evenson again started the rally with a leadoff double, and he came in when Brown delivered a RBI single. Zach Boskovich followed with a two-run single to make it 7-3 for the hosts.
PLU tried to rally in the ninth, cutting the margin to 7-4 on Iwakima’s run-scoring single, but with two runners on base Larson got Takayoshi to line out to Smith in center field for the final out.
Davis finished 3-for-5 while Gates and Moore were both 2-for-4 for the Lutes. Watt, who suffered his first loss of the season after nine straight wins, allowed seven earned runs on eight hits with six strikeouts and three walks in 6 1/3 innings of work. Brown and Bixenman each had a pair of hits for Linfield.
In the second game, Linfield’s Dorn scattered seven hits across seven innings, striking out four and walking three. He allowed only one run, that coming in the seventh when Iwakami led off with a triple and scored on a sacrifice fly by Davis. Even that brief rally took some of the steam out of the Lutes as Tyson Smith made an incredible over-the-shoulder running catch of Davis' drive to deep centerfield.
The Wildcats broke the ice in the second, notching a single run on Evenson’s single through the left side of the infield. PLU loaded the bases on Dorn with one out in the top of the third, but the senior righthander fanned Dan Johansen and coaxed Aratani to ground out to end the inning.
From there, the Wildcats seized command. After a run-scoring single by Bixenman, Boskovich whacked his school-record 15th home run of the season in the third, a two-run blast to left-center field, and the Wildcats led 4-0.
PLU starter Robert Bleecker (6-3) lasted just 3 2/3 innings, walking six Wildcats and yielding eight hits and five earned runs.
Reliever Ryan Frost replaced Bleeker but quickly found himself in trouble in the fourth. The ‘Cats loaded the bases on the PLU sophomore, who then walked home a run and watched as Linfield scored another on a passed ball. Linfield extended its lead to 7-0 in the fifth after Frost pegged Brown with a pitch in a bases-loaded situation to force home a run.
Bixenman, who drove in seven runs in the doubleheader, added to the Lutes’ woes in the seventh, lacing a three-run double off of the fence in left-centerfield. In the eighth, Rhett Fenton hit his eighth home run over the leftfield wall to complete the scoring.
Linfield collected 11 hits and also benefitted from a total of 10 walks and two hit batters from the PLU pitching corps. Bixenman, Fenton, Larson and Evenson all had a pair of hits for the winners.
PLU finished with 10 hits including three by Iwakami and two each by Davis, Gates and Elliott Shum.
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