PARKLAND - The Northwest Conference baseball championship race will come down to Sunday's final day of action, but Pacific Lutheran is no longer in the conversation after the Lutes split a Saturday doubleheader with the visiting Pacific Boxers at the PLU field.
The Lutes collected 19 hits - all singles - in rolling past the Boxers, 12-3, in the opening game, but the visitors returned the favor in the nightcap with 18 hits in a 13-5 romp.
The split gives PLU a 24-12 overall record, including a 16-7 mark in the Northwest Conference, meaning that the Lutes are assured of a third-place finish no matter what happens in Sunday's concluding game to this three-game set.
Pacific, on the other hand, is still in the title chase. The Boxers are now 21-15 overall and 18-5 in the conference, tied with Whitworth for first place. If Pacific and Whitworth tie for the regular season title, Whitworth wins the NWC's automatic berth in the NCAA Division III regional playoffs by virtue of beating Pacific, two games to one, in their conference series. A Pacific win over PLU, combined with a Whitworth loss to Whitman, would give the Boxers the outright conference crown and with it the bid to regionals.
Game 1 - PLU 12, Pacific 3
Freshman Trevor Lubking has become PLU's ace, and while he struggled with control through the majority of his seven innings, he allowed only one run on two hits. He walked six and struck out eight, including fanning the side in both the sixth and seventh innings. AJ Konopaski, another freshman, threw the final two innings, fiving up two runs on five hits.
While Lubking was weaving in and out of trouble, the Lutes were tagging Pacific ace Rob Dittrick. The 2011 Northwest Conference Pitcher of the Year, Dittrick came into the game with an 8-1 record and a sub-2.00 earned run average. He departed the game after throwing 87 pitches through 3 1/3 innings of work. PLU jumped all over him for 10 runs, nine earned, on 12 hits. As a result of the one start, Dittick's earned run average jumped all the way up to 3.78.
For all of that, the Pacific right-hander was unlucky in PLU's five-run first inning. Dominick Courcy led off with an infield nubber to first base that went for a single, and Corey Moore followed by chopping a ball over the head of third baseman Jared Van Hoon, who was playing in for an expected bunt. Jacob Hoffman then lined an 0-2 pitch the opposite way to right field to drive in Courcy, and Brock Gates followed with a line drive into left field that plated Moore. After Curtis Wildung walked to load the bases, Jaron Iwakami hit a sacrifice fly to drive in Hoffman. Dittrick appeared to limit the damage to those three runs, but a two-out grounder by Nicholas Hall took a bad hop past Van Hoon, resulting in the last two runs of the inning.
The Boxers got a run back in the third inning on a run-scoring single by Kevin Schwartz, but PLU played add-on, scoring two in the third, three in the fourth and two more in the sixth, and went on to the 12-3 victory.
Hall, starting at shortstop in place of injured senior Sammy Davis, had four hits and drove in four runs to lead the PLU offense. Moore and Hoffman both had three hits while Courcy, Gates, Wildung and Ryan Frost added two apiece. Frost drove in three runs and Gates scored three for PLU.
While the Lutes scored 12 runners, they also left 12 on the base paths.
Pacific managed seven hits in the game, including two by Schwartz.
Game 2 - Pacific 13, PLU 5
The second game was tied at 5-5 through six innings before Pacific finally made the most of its 18 hits and a total of 10 walks from five different PLU pitchers.
After leaving the bases loaded in the top of the sixth inning, the Boxers scored a run in the seventh, four in the eighth and three more in the ninth.
Nick Tasaka hit a single, stole second and scored on Van Hoon's base hit for what proved to be the winning run in the seventh. Pacific wasn't done, however, scoring its four in the eighth inning on two hits, two PLU errors, two walks and two stolen bases. Pinch hitter Greg Tellez and Tasaka both drew bases loaded walks, and the other two runs scored on a suicide squeeze by Donnie Bradley and the ensuing throwing error on the play.
Bradley finished the scoring in the ninth inning with a two-out, three-run homer over the fence in right field. It was the first homer of the year for the team's No. 9 hitter.
Mike McGuire worked the first four innings for the Boxers, allowing five runs, three earned, on six hits. Van Hoon, who entered the game with two on and no outs in the bottom of the fifth inning, dominated the Lutes while finishing the game with five outstanding innings. Van Hoon improved his season record to 3-0, allowing no runs on just two hits while walking one and striking out one.
The Lutes opened with Collin Nilson, but he came out of the game after 4 1/3 innings. His pitching line showed five earned runs on eight hits with four walks and four strikeouts. Nathan Eisenhauer worked one-third of an inning before Jacob Otness got the final out of the fifth inning. Otness ended up taking the loss to fall to 3-3 this season. He allowed five runs, four earned, on seven hits in 2 1/3 innings. Kipp Godfrey faced three batters and didn't get an out before Brandon Lundeberg pitched the final two innings, giving up three runs on two hits and a walk.
Both Mike Nagamine and Michael Arakaki were 4-for-5 with three runs scored for the Boxers, who also got two hits and four RBI from Bradley and two hits, two runs scored and two RBI from Tasaka.
Hoffman had two hits and scored three runs, while Frost added a pair of base hits, for the Lutes. PLU finished the two games with a total of 27 hits, all singles.
- PLU -