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Late comeback and walk-off win highlight Lutes' Saturday split

Frank Airey / Photo by Jason Borean
Frank Airey / Photo by Jason Borean

PARKLAND – Dramatic wins over Linfield have become something of a habit for the 21st-ranked Pacific Lutheran baseball team this season, as the Lutes tied it on a bases-loaded double in the bottom of the eighth claimed their second walk-off win over the Wildcats in a week with a 4-3 victory Saturday at the PLU Tournament.

One week after the Lutes eliminated Linfield from the Northwest Conference Tournament on a walk-off sacrifice fly, PLU (29-12) overcame a three-run deficit Saturday to earn its fourth win of the season over the 16th-ranked Wildcats. The Lutes, ranked first in the NCAA Div. III West Region, finished off the day with a 4-1 defeat to cross-town rival Puget Sound.

Linfield took a 3-0 lead into the bottom of the eighth in a matchup senior first-team all-conference pitchers Chris Bishop and Chris Haddeland. Haddeland held the Lutes scoreless through seven, but PLU got to the two-time NCAA Div. III Pitcher of the Year in the bottom of the eighth.

Drew Oord, Curtis Wildung and Connor Cantu picked up back-to-back-to-back five-pitch walks to load the bases with no outs, and Frank Airey stepped to the plate to pinch-hit for the Lutes. Airey worked a full count before driving the sixth pitch of the at bat to right-center for a game-tying double. That ended Haddeland's day, and Airey advanced to third with one out to represent the potential go-ahead run, but a strikeout and infield popup left it tied going into the top of the ninth.

Bishop worked nine strong innings for the Lutes, allowing the three runs on five hits while tossing 118 pitches. AJ Konopaski came in to pitch a perfect 10th, striking out one and earning the win.

Walks proved key to the Lutes' cause again in the bottom of the 10th. Landon Packard and Tyler Thompson walked to put the winning run in scoring position with two outs for Ben Welch. Linfield brought in Garrett Miller to pitch to Welch, and the Lutes' honorable mention all-conference shortstop sent the 1-1 pitch up the middle for the game-winning single.

Linfield scored its three runs with one each in the first, fourth and eighth innings. The Wildcats took advantage of a leadoff walk to open the game and scored their first run on a double-play ground ball. Their run in the fourth came on a two-out steal of home by Eric Lawson after he doubled and advanced to third on a groundout. Consecutive singles in the eighth led to Linfield's third run.

Packard and Welch each tallied two hits, while Airey led all batters with the three runs batted in. Finn McMichael picked up two hits and walked twice for Linfield. After losing their first game against Linfield this season, the Lutes have now won four straight over the Wildcats. All four have been comeback victories for PLU, and the Lutes' four wins in one year over the Wildcats mark a program record.

Following PLU's dramatic win over Linfield, the Lutes took aim at a sixth straight win and a season sweep of cross-town rival Puget Sound. The Loggers spoiled that goal, however, scoring three runs in the top of the ninth to break a 1-1 tie and pick up their first win over the Lutes this year.

The Lutes scored their lone run of the game in the bottom of the fourth, taking advantage of two UPS errors to take a 1-0 lead. Puget Sound tied it up in the top of the sixth on a home run by Chris Zerio. The Loggers scored three in the ninth on three hits, a walk and a Lute error to take their first lead and earn the win.

Steve Wagar earned the complete-game victory for the Loggers, allowing only one unearned run on five hits with nine strikeouts. Kyle Rossman nearly matched him pitch-for-pitch until the ninth, taking the loss after allowing four runs on 10 hits in 8.1 innings with eight strikeouts. Ty Donahou picked up the final two outs for the Lutes.

Packard added two more hits in the second game to finish with four for the day. After his first-game heroics earned him the starting nod at designated hitter, Airey picked up another hit and a walk. Zerio led UPS with three hits, while Bobby Hosmer and Nick Funyak each tallied a pair of hits.

Pacific Lutheran wraps up the regular season on Sunday, hosting George Fox at 3 p.m. The Lutes will dedicate the Kittilsby Press Box in a ceremony at 2 p.m. and recognize the eight seniors on the 2015 squad prior to Sunday's first pitch. With a win against the Bruins, the Lutes can clinch their fourth 30-win season in the last nine years.