PARKLAND – It was a historic day Saturday for the Pacific Lutheran baseball team, and the Lute offense showed up for the party. Pacific Lutheran scored 20 runs for the first time in five years during a 21-16 win over Lewis & Clark in the opener and did it again for good measure in the second game for a 22-2 win to clinch the Northwest Conference regular-season title and head coach Geoff Loomis' record 318th win.
Sunny skies and 70-degree temperatures greeted the Lutes Saturday as they claimed their third conference crown since Loomis took over the program in 2003, joining titles in 2007 and 2009. The regular-season title gives the Lutes the right to host the inaugural NWC Tournament next weekend, with the Lutes set to play in the tournament opener at 1 p.m. on Friday against the fourth-seeded team, either Puget Sound or George Fox.
"We've put ourselves in position to win the conference almost every year," Loomis said. "What made it unique for me is that we won every series, in fact we haven't even lost back-to-back games. We were able to put consistent weekends back-to-back eight times, and that's really hard to do in this conference. For us to be able to show that kind of consistency is really a hallmark of what these guys are all about."
The wins also improved PLU's season record to 25-9 overall and 17-6 in conference play. That gave PLU its fifth 25-win season out of 13 years with Loomis as head coach. Prior to Loomis' tenure, the Lutes reached that win threshold only once. Loomis took over as head coach in 2003 and has compiled a 318-192-2 record in his 13 seasons at the helm, surpassing Larry Marshall for the program coaching record (Marshall finished his 19-year tenure with a record of 317-367-2).
"The individual record, it's just a part of longevity, but this is a special group," Loomis said. "It's been really fun to be part of the run they've been on."
It was only fitting that such a historic day featured a record-setting level of offensive performance for the Lutes. PLU's run totals marked the first time in program history that the team reached 20 runs in consecutive games, while the squad batted .465 with 40 hits in 86 at bats. Twenty walks and six hit batters gave PLU a .574 on-base percentage for the day, while seven doubles, three home runs and two triples gave PLU a .698 slugging percentage.
Tyler Thompson led PLU with six hits, and his six runs scored tied Landon Packard for the team lead on the day. Drew Oord crushed his first career home run in the second game, as he stepped to the plate in the bottom of the second inning with the bases loaded and brought them all home with a grand slam to right center field. He finished the day with seven runs batted in, five runs scored and five hits, while Connor Cantu drove in a team-best eight runs on five hits.
Packard tallied four hits and four walks, while Jacob Clements also walked four times. Collin Nilson hit two home runs in the opener and totaled six runs batted in on four hits between the two games. Ben Welch had a pair of doubles among his five hits to go with four runs batted in and four more scored, while Curtis Wildung had four hits – including a double and a triple – and walked twice.
Kyle Rossman pitched the second game for the Lutes. After allowing two runs in the top of the first, Rossman settled down and picked up his team-best third complete game of the season, throwing only 97 pitches while not allowing another run to the Pioneers.
PLU opened both games with seven-run innings. The Lutes scored seven times in the bottom of the first in the opener, taking advantage of four hits, three walks and two Lewis & Clark errors. They added five runs in the second and three each in the third and fourth innings. PLU tacked on a run in each of the final three frames to hold off Lewis & Clark as the Pioneers tallied 20 hits and battled back with 16 runs.
Lewis & Clark's two-run second inning in the second game proved to be the final runs the Pioneers would score on the day. The Lutes followed with seven runs on seven hits, one walk and one error in the bottom of the second, and the Lutes went on to score 22 unanswered runs to put to rest any question about the conference crown and Loomis' wins record.
Eric Hyun led Lewis & Clark with seven hits between the two games, including a trio of doubles. Bradley Lezak tallied six hits and finished the opener a double shy of the cycle as he picked up a home run, triple and two singles.
While the doubleheader performance dropped PLU from the top of the pitching leaderboard in the conference rankings, the Lutes' offensive outburst left PLU at the top of the conference leaderboard in batting average (.319), on-base percentage (.400) and slugging percentage (.448).
The Lutes host Lewis & Clark in the final game of the three-game series and the Northwest Conference season Sunday at 12 p.m. With at least a share of the conference crown in the books courtesy of a one-game lead over Linfield going into the finale, Loomis had one thing to say to his team following the doubleheader sweep.
"You guys just guaranteed that we get to sleep in our own beds and host the conference tournament. Now let's come back tomorrow and win this title outright."