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April 25, 2012

Lutes Host Pacific In Pivotal Three-Game Series

THIS WEEKEND: The Pacific Lutheran baseball team will play its final home games of the season this weekend when it plays host to the first-place Pacific Boxers. The Lutes are 9-1 at home this season while the Boxers are 3-11 on the road. At 23-11, 15-6 in the NWC, the Lutes sit in third place in the Northwest Conference standings, trailing Whitworth by one game. Pacific, 20-14 overall, 17-4 in the NWC, owns a two-game lead over the Lutes. The Lutes are coming off a three-game sweep of Lewis & Clark and are winners of five straight. Pacific is coming off a sweep of the University of Puget Sound but has gone 4-5 in its last nine games. The potential NWC championship-deciding series begins with a doubleheader at noon on Saturday and wraps up with a single game at noon on Sunday.

LIVE STATS AND LIVE AUDIO: All Pacific Lutheran home baseball games are available on the web in two formats. You can listen to the games on PLU audio webcasts provided through Stretch Internet. PLU student broadcasters, led by "Voice of the Lutes" Landyn Rookard, will bring you the pitch-by-pitch action on www.golutes.com. Click on the "Listen Live" link in the right column and on the appropriate link. Live stats are provided by PLU baseball statistician Garret Ward. Click on the "Live Stats" link in the right column and, again, on the appropriate link.

SENIOR DAY SUNDAY: A total of eight Pacific Lutheran seniors will be playing their final home games this weekend. Technically, only seven of the seniors will be playing as shortstop Sammy Davis is done for the year after suffering a season-ending shoulder injury in the George Fox series. The other seniors are pitcher/infielder Ryan Frost, catchers Zack Halverson and Ethan Ottemiller, pitcher Nathan Eisenhauer, first baseman Brock Gates, second baseman Corey Moore, and outfielder Jaron Iwakami. Those eight will be honored prior to the start of Sunday's series finale.

LUTES WILL BE NWC CHAMPS IF: The Lutes are going to need help this weekend to receive a Pool A (conference champion) automatic bid to the regional tournament. Trailing Pacific by two games in the current standings, the Lutes will first need to sweep the Boxers, something they have done twice in the past three years. Also trailing Whitworth (23-13-1, 16-5 in the NWC) by one game, the Lutes need Whitworth to lose two of three games to Whitman (5-31, 5-16 in the NWC). If the Lutes sweep Pacific and Whitworth loses only one game to Whitman, technically the Lutes would share the conference championship with Whitworth, but because Whitworth took two of three games from the Lutes in Spokane in mid-March, the Pirates would receive the Pool A automatic bid. The Lutes' last NWC championship came in 2009 (co-championship with George Fox), Whitworth's last title came in 1991, and Pacific's was in 1979 when they shared the championship with Linfield and Willamette.

BREAKING DOWN THE GATES: PLU first baseman Brock Gates improved his conference-best batting average last weekend from .407 to .416. The slugger went 7-for-14 against Lewis & Clark pitching and also scored seven runs and drove in five. Gates' 39 runs scored this season are tied for second best in the NWC. Teammate Dominick Courcy leads the NWC in runs scored with 43. Gates' 62 hits are 10th best in the all of Division III baseball. Gates is also second in the NWC with 43 RBI and fourth in the conference with seven home runs. Not known for his speed, Gates is quietly a perfect seven-for-seven in stolen base attempts this season, good for a tie for 19th in the NWC.

CHASING THE RECORD BOOKS: While putting together a terrific senior season, Brock Gates is also climbing toward several program records. With six games remaining in the regular season, Gates is only six hits away from tying his single season record of 68 hits in a season. Currently with 43 RBI this year, Gates is seven RBI away from tying Ben Shively's single-season mark of 51 set back in 2009. Finally, Gates is tied for second all-time with 19 home runs in his career. With four more home runs, Gates will stand alone in the all-time record books, passing John Panko's mark of 21 career homers. It is noteworthy that Gates, already ranked in the Top 10 in a number of PLU career offensive stats, has played only three seasons after transferring from the University of Washington.

SOLID SENIORS: Jaron Iwakami, PLU's starting right fielder, is having an outstanding senior season. The left-handed hitter is second on the team with a .373 batting average, and in doubles with 12. He also leads the outfielders with three assists. Another senior, Corey Moore, is now hitting .293 with 28 RBI and 14 steals after a slow start. Yet another senior, Ethan Ottemiller, has started 14 games behind the dish and has compiled a .310 batting average.

SCOUTING THE BOXERS' OFFENSE: Pacific is seventh in the NWC with a team batting average of .270 and sixth in the NWC scoring just over 5.2 runs per contest. Kevin Schwartz leads the Boxers in batting average (.338), at bats (136), runs (28), hits (46), and total bases (58). Schwartz is also second on the team with 22 RBI. The Boxers have a hit a conference-low eight home runs as a team.

SCOUTING THE BOXER'S STAFF: The pitching staff is clearly the strength of the Boxers, who have given up more than three runs only once in the past five games. The Boxers own the second best team ERA in the NWC at 3.53 and have held opponents to a .256 batting average. Rob Dittrick is the unquestioned leader of the Boxer staff. The 2011 NWC Pitcher of the Year is 8-1 this season with a conference-best 1.88 ERA and has walked only nine batters in 72.0 innings. Dittrick's eight victories are tied for seventh best in the country. Pacific's second starter, Chad Fahey, is 5-2 with a 3.21 ERA over 67 1/3 innings.

HOME FIELD ADVANTAGE: Pacific has benefitted from the rainy Pacific Northwest spring in a very interesting way. The Boxers, 3-11 on the road this season as mentioned earlier, played 14 of their first 15 conference games at home. They were scheduled to play a three-game series at both Willamette and George Fox, but ended up playing host in five of those six contests. After Pacific won the first game at Willamette, the last two games of the series were moved to Forest Grove because of unplayable field conditions at Willamette's field in Salem. The George Fox series was originally scheduled to be played in Newberg, but that series was also moved to Pacific's home field in Forest Grove. In fact, George Fox, currently fourth place in the conference standings, has not played a game on its home field all season long.

SERIES HISTORY: Since the two teams began playing each other in 1980, the Lutes are 58-39 against the Boxers. The Lutes have won nine of the last 10 meetings and have outscored the Boxers 128-46 over that span dating back to the beginning of the 2009 season. Head Coach Geoff Loomis is 21-9 against the Boxers since taking over the helm in 2003.

FUN FACTS: This weekend's series will feature two of the top 50 defenses in the country...Pacific has the seventh best fielding percentage in the country at .971 and the Lutes own the 47th best fielding percentage in the country at .963...an important part of that prolific Pacific defense is the ability to throw out base stealers...Pacific opponents are just 19-for-34 in steals for the season, with Boxers catcher Jordan Siu throwing out 10 of the 16 running on his arm...no one has stolen a base while pitcher Rob Dittrick has been on the mound...on the other side, the Lutes are 61-for-69 in steals this year, including 42-for-47 in NWC play...do the math - that's an average of two steals per conference game for the Lutes...PLU sophomore outfielder Dominick Courcy's 1.39 runs scored per contest are seventh best in the country...freshman pitcher Trevor Lubking sits 38th in the country with 62 total strikeouts...the Lutes' 60 hit by pitch this season ranks 15th in Division III baseball...the University of La Verne is first in the country with 94 HBP...the Lutes beat La Verne, 4-3, in February, and in that game La Verne batters were hit seven times, the Lutes not once.

PLU 11, LEWIS & CLARK 1: Trevor Lubking finished with double-digit strikeouts for the second straight start, striking out 10 and giving up one earned run on four hits in eight innings of work. The win improved Lubking's record to 4-3. Lewis & Clark's lone run came in the bottom of the first on a two out infield single. Courcy hit a two-run home run, the first of his career, that led a four-run second inning for the Lutes. The Lutes finished with 16 hits and scored in every inning with the exception of the first and the fourth. Courcy had a monster day going 4-for-6 with three runs scored, three RBI and a stolen base. Six PLU starters had multi-hit days. AJ Konopaski pitched a scoreless ninth for the Lutes.

PLU 11, LEWIS & CLARK 2: The Lutes scored in each of the first four innings on their way to taking a 7-1 lead. Starter Ryan Frost gave up two earned runs on six hits in 4 2/3 innings of work but did not pick up the win because he didn't pitch the needed 5 innings. Instead, Nathan Eisenhauer picked up his sixth victory of the season in relief, pitching a scoreless 2 1/3 innings before handing the ball to Brandon Lundeberg, who threw up zeros in the final two frames. Jaron Iwakami and Brock Gates each had three-hit days for the Lutes, who finished with 13 hits as a team. Jacob Hoffman hit is fourth home run of the season in the fourth inning.

PLU 9, LEWIS & CLARK 8: Hanging on to a one-run lead with two outs and bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth, AJ Konopaski coaxed a fly out to right field, sealing his second save of the season. Collin Nilson improved his record to 5-2 on the season, giving up four earned runs on five hits in six innings. The Lutes took a 3-0 in the second behind a Nick Hall sacrifice fly and a two-run double off the bat of Ethan Ottemiller. Lewis & Clark took a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the fifth before the Lutes tied it up in the sixth when Hoffman scored on a throwing error. The Lutes would go on to score three times in the seventh and twice in the ninth to take a 9-4 lead before the Pioneers made it interesting in the bottom of the ninth. The rally was driven largely by four PLU walks, an error, and a balk. The Lutes finished with 10 hits as a team. Gates led the offensive charge finishing 2-5 with two runs scored and three RBI.

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