PARKLAND – George Fox struck first, but Pacific Lutheran scored multiple runs in each of the final five innings as the top-seeded Lutes pulled away to a 16-4 win over the fourth-seeded Bruins in the opening game of the inaugural Northwest Conference Baseball Tournament Friday afternoon at PLU Field.
Pacific Lutheran, ranked 18th in the latest d3baseball.com poll and first in the west region rankings, improved to 27-9 overall this season, while George Fox falls to 17-22. The Lutes play the winner of the Whitworth/Linfield game at 1 p.m. on Saturday, following the loser-out game between George Fox and the loser of the Whitworth/Linfield game at 10 a.m.
Rainy weather hindered play throughout – including a 20-minute delay in the middle of the game – helping lead to a combined five errors and four hit batsmen between the two teams. But after three quiet innings to begin the game the PLU offense continued its recent offensive eruption to score four runs in each of the fourth, sixth and seventh innings and two more in the fifth and sixth.
PLU tallied 18 hits in the game, with Collin Nilson contributing a team-high four of those. Nilson finished the day with a pair of doubles, three runs scored and three more batted in. Landon Packard tallied three hits and three runs scored with two RBI, while Ben Welch drove in four runs. Tyler Thompson, Welch, Jacob Clements, Drew Oord and Curtis Wildung all finished the day with two hits for the Lutes.
Chris Bishop allowed three earned runs over six innings with six strikeouts to earn his seventh win of the season, while Cory Nelson didn't allow a hit over the final three frames to claim his second save of the year. Ian Buckles took the loss for George Fox, allowing seven earned runs on 12 hits in 5.2 innings. Andrew Reichenbach scored two runs for the Bruins, while Jake Thran and Ansel Webster each drove in two.
The Bruins took a 2-0 lead in the first inning of play, but the Lutes bounced back in a big way in the bottom of the fourth. PLU opened the inning with six consecutive hits – including a pair of bunt singles – while Welch and Clements came through with the big hits to score two apiece in the frame. Welch doubled down the left field line and Clements singled to center as the Lutes turned the two-run deficit into a two-run advantage.
George Fox tied it up in the next inning on a two-out double by Webster, but PLU scored the next 12 runs to seal the tournament-opening win. The Lutes began that push with two runs in the bottom of the fifth. Packard reached on a one-out error by the Bruins, and Nilson singled down the left field line and advanced to second on the throw as PLU put two runners in scoring position. One out later Welch came through again with a single to right to score both runners and make it a 6-4 game.
The Lutes added four more in each of the next two innings. PLU scored all four runs in the sixth with two outs as Packard dropped an RBI single into right field and Nilson and Thompson followed with consecutive doubles to stretch the PLU lead to six runs. The seventh inning saw some George Fox struggles throwing the ball as Bruins pitchers hit a pair of Lute batters and a throwing error helped get the inning going early. Clements and Wildung each reached on singles, and a throwing error allowed Clements to score and Wildung to advance to second. Cantu walked on four pitches and Tanner Williams was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Another Packard single scored Wildung from third, and Nilson brought in another run via hit-by-pitch. A fielder's choice by Thompson scored the final run of the frame and left it at 14-4 PLU.
Another George Fox error and hit batter contributed to PLU's final two runs in the bottom of the eighth. Oord was hit by a pitch with one out and Wildung walked to put two on. A fielding error allowed Cantu to reach and load the bases, and Williams singled through the left side to score two and close out the scoring for the day.