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PLU Baseball Opens NWC Play at Willamette

Markus McClurkin
Markus McClurkin

THIS WEKEND: The Pacific Lutheran University baseball team is looking to regain their place at the top of the Northwest Conference this weekend when it opens up NWC play in Salem, OR against Willamette in a three game series.  Last season the Lutes finished in a tie with Whitworth for fifth place in the NWC. It was the first time since 2003 PLU failed finish at least third in the conference. The Lutes go into the weekend with an overall mark of 5-4, dropping their last two in walk off fashion to Saint Martin's University. The series is set to begin Saturday with a doubleheader beginning at 11 a.m. The conference opening series concludes with a single game on Sunday starting at noon.

INCLEMENT WEATHER: Because of minor snow accumulations on Willamette's John Lewis Field the certainty of this weekend's schedule is up in the air. If the field is too wet for a double header on Saturday the two teams will play a single game Saturday followed by a double header Sunday, the times are t.b.a. According to Portland's KGW news, Saturday and Sunday will be partly cloudy with a chance of showers on Saturday. The highs for both days are going to be in the low to mid 50's. 

A LOOK AT THE YOUNG SEASON: The Lutes started the season on a high note at 4-2 after splitting the season opening two game series in Portland against Concordia (OR) and going 3-1 in the Arizona Desert Classic. Over that span PLU averaged nine runs per contest while holding opponents to 4.6 runs per game, a number that would be much smaller without allowing 13 runs in the Arizona Desert Classic opener to the University of Texas at Dallas. Since the Arizona trip the Lutes have played a lone three game series with Saint Martin's University. Coming into the series the Saints were 1-11 and had a staff ERA over ten. The series opener and home opener for the Lutes reflected the weakness of the Saint's staff as PLU cruised to a 12-2 victory. With a 5-2 record, the Lute's bats went cold in the final two games of the series losing 7-6 in the second game and 3-2 in 12 innings in the rubber match. Both games were won by SMU in the final at bat. On Sunday it was a walk off single off the bat of Alex Bielaski and Monday night it was a controversial HBP with the bases loaded that hit Mario Sanelli in the foot. The call sent head coach Geoff Loomis storming out of the dugout as it appeared that Sanelli had swung. The call stood and left the Lutes at 5-4 going into the conference opener this weekend.

BEARCAT BOPPERS: Willamette will head into the weekend 2-8, dropping seven of their last eight contests. The slow start by the Bearcats can't be attributed to their offense however. Willamette's offense, which is scoring just under seven runs a game and is led by preseason All-American Mitchell Rowan. Rowan, a junior outfielder out of Cotati, CA is hitting at a .423 clip (sixth in the NWC) while hitting three homeruns (tied for first in the NWC) in only 26 at bats. Willamette's slugger also leads the team in RBI with nine (tied for ninth in the NWC). The Bearcats have six regulars who are hitting above .300 and have a team batting average of .284. Willamette has hit seven homeruns as a team which leads the NWC. The Bearcats have also proved to be patient in the young season drawing an NWC leading 67 free passes. The next highest total in the NWC is 49.

PROBLEMS ON THE MOUND: The Bearcat pitching staff enters the weekend with a conference worst 8.73 ERA. Opponents are hitting a healthy .337 against WU collecting 112 hits in 77.1 innings. Peter Hoffman leads the Bearcats with a 3.27 ERA in 11 IP. Hoffman has collected a 1-0 record in four appearances including one start.

SERIES HISTORY: Going into the weekend the Lutes have a career record of 44-53 against Willamette dating back to 1980. PLU however has won 15 of the last 18 contests. The last time the two teams met in Salem, last March, PLU pulled out a 14-11 victory in a six and a half hour marathon due to several rain delays.

LAST WEEKEND: The Lutes were only able to take one of three games from NCAA Div. II Saint Martin's in the final preseason games of the year for PLU. In game one of the series Chris Bishop picked up his first win of the season giving up a lone unearned run in six innings of work. Nathan Eisenhauer pitched the final three innings and collected the save. PLU built a big lead early leading the Saint's 6-0 after just two innings. Ryan Frost, Brock Gates and Corey Moore each had two hit days for the Lutes who finished with 10 hits as a team. In the second game the Lutes trailed 4-0 before scoring five runs in the top of the fifth. It was the last time the Lutes would lead as the Saint's responded with two runs of their own in the home half of the fifth. Trailing by a run in the top of the ninth, Jaron Iwakami drove in pinch runner Jacob Olsufka to tie the game 6-6. Saint Martin's won the game in the bottom of the ninth off closer Ryan Frost after two, two out singles. In the rubber match, PLU once again fell in the last at bat losing 3-2 in 12 innings. Jacob Otness was stellar out of the bullpen going 7.2 innings giving up one unearned run on three hits. In the eleventh inning the Lutes had runners on first and second with no outs but were unable to score. In the twelfth inning PLU had the bases loaded with one out but again were unable to plate the crucial run. The Saint's won the game in the bottom of the twelfth on a controversial bases loaded HBP where it appeared Mario Sanelli had swung. Both run scored by PLU were unearned.